Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under fire for backlog of internal affairs cases

Aug 15, 2020, 5:30 AM
(Facebook Screenshot/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)...
(Facebook Screenshot/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
(Facebook Screenshot/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX (AP) — The sheriff’s department in metro Phoenix, which for years has been the target of criticism, is again under fire after a review found a backlog of 1,800 internal affairs cases taking an average of over 400 days to complete, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The findings by a court-appointed official overseeing Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone’s office said the slowness in completing the investigations is unacceptable for both members of the public who make complaints and officers awaiting the findings.

“In various discussions that have transpired, there is always a sense of lingering optimism, but little follow-up and even less progress on the issues I have cited here,” the monitor, Robert Warshaw, wrote in the July 10 letter.

Warshaw, who oversees a court-ordered internal affairs overhaul at the agency, criticized Penzone for failing to fill new internal investigator positions that were already budgeted by the county and not following the suggestion to pay retired investigators to help reduce the backlog.

The court requires internal investigations to be completed within 60 or 85 days, depending upon which office at the agency handles the cases.

Penzone said his office made warnings nearly two years ago about the growing caseload, but its own suggestions for confronting the problem were rejected by court officials and lawyers involved in a related court case. Penzone, who is seeking reelection in November, said the court’s orders have created a slow process for change.

“Unfortunately, we currently work with an adversarial process that slows any progress we are able to make,” said Penzone.

Since taking office nearly four years ago, Penzone has sought to overhaul internal affairs operations, which had been criticized for biased decision-making and shielding sheriff’s officials from accountability under his predecessor, Joe Arpaio. During his administration, the agency was found by a judge to have racially profiled Latinos in traffic stops that targeted immigrants.

Arpaio’s defiance of a court order to stop his immigration patrols led to his criminal conviction; he was later pardoned by President Donald Trump. As part of the case focusing on the traffic stops, the judge appointed an outside monitor and ordered the department to redo some investigations he deemed inadequate.

The overhaul stripped the agency of some its autonomy over internal affairs. Transfers of employees in and out the internal affairs unit are now required to be approved by the monitor. More training was required for supervisors. And the sheriff’s office is required to investigate all complaints of officer misconduct, even those made anonymously.

Raul Piña, who serves on a community advisory board set up to help improve trust in the sheriff’s office, said a misconduct complaint filed by community members shouldn’t take more than a year to resolve.

“If they have to wait 400 days, that’s significant to them,” Piña said. “That needs to be repaired by the agency.”

Joe Clure, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, which advocates on issues affecting officers, said the slowness of the internal cases leaves the professional lives of officers twisting in the wind because they can’t get hired by other police agencies until their cases have concluded.

“It affects the ability of officers to find work elsewhere,” Clure said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which pressed the profiling case against the sheriff’s office, called the backlog “deeply troubling.”

Penzone told Warshaw that his internal affairs investigators carry huge caseloads and that the sheriff’s office, unlike other agencies, doesn’t have the option of treating minor violations differently than serious misconduct.

The sheriff’s office said it hired three new investigators last year and has created positions designed for retired internal affairs investigators, but that low pay and the difficulty of passing background checks have led to a small number of qualified candidates.

Currently, the sheriff’s office has filled only one of 10 new internal investigator positions that were budgeted by the county.

The agency said it has to balance the need to fill the investigator jobs with the challenge of addressing vacancies throughout its ranks. The internal affairs unit, which currently has 24 investigators, would need 90 investigators to make caseloads more manageable, plus additional supervisors and support staff, the sheriff’s office said.

Penzone said his office’s suggestions for lessening the backlog — allowing a statute of limitations on complaints and closing cases in which the subject of the investigation is dead or no longer working for the sheriff’s office— were rejected.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...

Phoenix police involved in shooting near 52nd Street and Thomas Road

Phoenix police were involved in a shooting with a suspect on Monday night, authorities said. 
20 hours ago
The Colorado River winds its way along the West Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Hualapai Indian Rese...
Associated Press

Grand Canyon starting water limitations after pumphouse outage

Grand Canyon National Park is starting water conservation measures on the North Rim due to an electrical failure involving the Roaring Springs pumphouse.
20 hours ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
Danny Shapiro

National Guard sets up barricade around Arizona Capitol following abortion ruling protests

The Arizona National Guard has set up razor-wire fencing around the Capitol complex in downtown Phoenix following protests over the weekend in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortions.
20 hours ago
Traffic stops as thousands of protesters march around the Arizona Capitol after the Supreme Court o...
Associated Press

Groups want court to block Arizona ‘personhood’ law in wake of Roe ruling

An emergency motion was filed seeking to block a 2021 Arizona “personhood” law that abortion rights supporters fear will be used to halt all abortions.
20 hours ago
(KTAR News Photo/Jeremy Schnell)...
Kevin Stone

Sinkhole almost swallows car after pipe breaks on Phoenix street

A motorist escaped uninjured after driving into a sinkhole that opened up after a pipe broke under a Phoenix street Sunday night.
20 hours ago
From left, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (Getty Images Photo) and House Minority Leader Regina...
Kevin Stone

Arizona party leaders laud state budget as bipartisan achievement

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Arizona House both came out of budget negotiations with good things to say about the agreement.
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under fire for backlog of internal affairs cases