by Dennis Wagner, JJ Hensley and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez – Aug. 31, 2012 11:52 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Ann Birmingham Scheel, acting on behalf of U.S. Attorney John Leonardo, announced the decision in a three-paragraph news release distributed at 5 p.m. Friday. Neither she nor anyone else from the office was available to comment.
In her letter to Montgomery, Scheel said the “comprehensive investigation” failed to uncover sufficient evidence for criminal charges, which require a judge or jury to find defendants guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
She emphasized that her inquiry has no bearing on a racial-profiling case filed against the Sheriff’s Office in May by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A verdict in that case, which focuses on alleged discriminatory practices in county jails and in sweeps aimed at undocumented immigrants, would be based on the civil standard, a preponderance of evidence, rather than more rigorous “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.
Paul Penzone, Arpaio’s Democratic challenger, said the outcome is hardly vindication, nor does it exonerate Arpaio for “lost dollars, failed investigations and at best questionable practices.”
“This is not something that law enforcement should celebrate, it’s something of great concern,” said Penzone. “There are obvious failings in the Sheriff’s Office. The fact that they did not rise to a level of criminal indictment does not lessen that they are failings.”
Randy Parraz, head of Citizens for a Better Arizona, which launched a “Joe’s Got to Go” campaign to defeat Arpaio in November, said he was disappointed in the outcome.
“People’s lives have been damaged and hurt and violated by the sheriff, and it is unfortunate that they are going to walk away and not pursue any of these things,” he said. “It sends the wrong message that they haven’t done anything wrong, which serves him (Arpaio) well in an election year.”
In addition to the still outstanding Justice Department civil-rights complaint, the Sheriff’s Office faces a lawsuit filed by Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist who was arrested and detained for nine hours while visiting the U.S. legally. Melendres’ allegation of racial profiling became a class-action lawsuit covering every Latino driver stopped by sheriff’s deputies in the past five years. Plaintiffs and defendants submitted closing arguments earlier this month, but U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has not yet reached a verdict.
Arpaio and Thomas also were defendants in 10 federal lawsuits filed by elected county supervisors, county administrators and retired judges, four of which are still pending.
The lawsuits stemmed from so-called government-corruption investigations in 2008 and 2009 by the sheriff and prosecutor, who had filed criminal cases and a federal racketeering lawsuit against the officials. Plaintiffs claim they were wronged by those investigations and charges.