PHOENIX — As county officials in metro Phoenix work to enact a budget for
the next fiscal year, they are confronted with a looming financial liability:
the legal costs associated with Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial-profiling case.
Taxpayers are already on the hook for an estimated $45 million stemming from
the racial-profiling lawsuit filed over Arpaio’s signature immigration patrols.
The cost is expected to grow by millions more in the coming years as the
county works to resolve the 7-year-old case.
The $45 million price tag consists of: $14.6 million spent over the last 18
months to carry out court-ordered changes at the agency; another $23.8 million
budgeted over the next year to cover even more compliance costs; and $6.8
million in fees for lawyers on both sides.
Taxpayers are expected to face even more costs as Arpaio’s office remained under
court supervision and the possibility loomed for another racial-profiling
trial that the county will have to fund.
County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, one of the officials who will vote
on the county’s proposed budget, said the money being spent on the case could
have been used for flood-control improvements, crime-lab upgrades and other
“We have no idea what it’s going to cost the taxpayers,” said Gallardo, a
critic of Arpaio.
Arpaio spokeswoman Lisa Allen said the legal costs for the sheriff’s office were
nowhere near as high as other police agencies in the country.
Tom Morrissey, a retired chief U.S. marshal and a longtime Arpaio friend, said
he couldn’t speak about the costs on the sheriff’s behalf, but he said lawsuits
are inevitable for police officials who take a robust approach to law
“If you aren’t getting sued, you aren’t doing your job,”
The sheriff took on immigration enforcement a decade ago as voter frustrations
mounted over the state’s porous border with Mexico, and his efforts brought him
popularity among voters and campaign contributions from across the country.
tactics turned into a legal and financial liability after a group of Hispanics
brought a class-action lawsuit saying that Arpaio’s office had singled out
Latinos in its patrols.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow two years ago concluded that Arpaio’s officers
had systematically racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and immigration
patrols, ushering in a series of court-ordered changes that are proving costly
That included buying body cameras for hundreds of deputies, setting up a
computerized system aimed at detecting misconduct by officers and conducting
more training to ensure officers aren’t making unconstitutional traffic stops.
Taxpayers also are picking up the tab for a team of retired police officials to
monitor Arpaio’s office on behalf of the judge.
The costs from the profiling case come directly out of the county’s budget, and
not from the sheriff himself.
County officials said they didn’t believe Arpaio has
had to pay any legal fees, settlements and judgments related to his work in his
22 years as sheriff. The sheriff did offer to pay $100,000 from his own pocket
in an unsuccessful bid to short-circuit contempt-of-court hearings against him
in the case.
The county also was on the hook for an additional $74 million related to Arpaio
that is separate from the racial-profiling costs.
That figure included
judgments, settlements and legal fees for the sheriff’s office during Arpaio’s
tenure, covering things like lawsuits over deaths in his jails and the lawman’s
failed investigations of political enemies.
The costs were paid for through a county fund dedicated to covering legal
It’s not known how long the legal costs will drag on.
Snow has signaled that he may hold a second trial in the profiling case
stemming from Arpaio’s acknowledged defiance of a court order that he quit his
Lawyers who won the profiling case said hundreds of Latinos
have been identified as having been pulled over by deputies after the order was
issued and should be financially compensated by the county for the harm they
And the efforts to comply with the judge’s orders will take several years. Snow
recently also said the sheriff’s office is 29 percent in compliance.
sheriff’s office is fully compliant, it must remain so for three straight years
before it can be released from the court’s oversight. Taxpayers will pick up the
All the while, the county was in the midst of defending a civil rights lawsuit
brought by the U.S. Justice Department that alleged retaliation against Arpaio’s
political rivals and racial profiling.
The county has pulled $4.7 million out of
its budget so far to defend that case.