Sheriff Penzone calls contempt finding ‘scarlet letter,’ says MCSO in better place now

Nov 9, 2022, 2:30 PM

(Facebook Photo, File/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)...

(Facebook Photo, File/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

(Facebook Photo, File/Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Wednesday that a civil contempt finding against him in a profiling case tied to the man he succeeded was an undeserved “scarlet letter.”

A federal judge on Tuesday found Penzone to be in civil contempt of court for noncompliance in the same racial profiling case in which his predecessor, Joe Arpaio, was found to be in contempt six years earlier.

“I will say this, me personally: the idea that you’re tattooing me with a scarlet letter in the same way as my predecessor who was violating people’s civil rights and racially profiling and doing all those things? This is not your father’s sheriff’s office,” Penzone said on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

“I respect the court but I disagree with the court.”

A federal court-ordered overhaul of the office’s internal affairs bureau, which has a backlog of 2,100 investigations, each taking an average of more than 600 days to complete.

The court requires those investigations to be completed with 60 to 85 days, depending on which operation within the agency handles the case.

“[The office] is a hell of a lot better and the men and women are doing a great job and this is not a reflection of who we are,” Penzone said.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wrote that the sheriff didn’t demonstrate that he had taken reasonable steps to comply with the order and added despite Penzone’s knowledge of it, the backlog was getting worse.

Penzone said more than 5,000 complaints have been investigated during that mandated time frame and that staff looks into each allegation.

“Whether it is anonymous, whether it’s accurate, whether it’s from a former employee, whether it’s about a former employee, [they’re] are all investigated to a volume that is far more substantial than any other organization,” he said.

“There’s like a 250-point checklist for every single investigation. I’m not happy about how long they’re taking but I don’t want people to confuse that with them not getting done.”

Case priorities change, he said.

“It’s a triage situation. If I have something where an employee tomorrow does something egregious, that case goes to the front of the line.

Something less substantial suddenly gets pushed back, he said, “because either I’m going to fire somebody or suspend them. That’s a priority.”

Penzone said he was committed to public safety but that in no way diminished his commitment to meeting the court orders.

“You look at the circumstances: we went from a 5% vacancy ratio to 25% due to COVID and some other issues. We’re being asked to do more like guard recorder’s offices, handle protests, deal with the fentanyl issue, work with issues in the jail and … to do more focus on internal investigations and external crimes.

“Some people go, ‘oh, that’s an excuse, sheriff. ‘ It’s not. That’s the reality,” Penzone said.

The judge threatened yet-to-be-determined monthly fines against Maricopa County and would put the proceeds toward hiring more internal affairs employees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

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

Arizona News

File photo of Border Patrol agent in Arizona...

Damon Allred

Former U.S. border patrol agent sentenced to 18 years in prison for bribery and drug smuggling

A Buckeye man who served as a United States border patrol agent was sentenced to 18 years in prison and five years of supervised release.

4 hours ago

Phoenix Rescue Mission...

Phoenix Rescue Mission readies annual heat relief campaign

With the summer heat nearing, Phoenix Rescue Mission is launching its annual heat relief campaign to assist unhoused and at-risk individuals.

6 hours ago

(AP Photo)...

Northbound Loop 101 on-ramp at Shea Boulevard to close for 2 months

The northbound Loop 101 on-ramp at Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale is scheduled to be closed for approximately 60 days, starting Monday.

8 hours ago

Hildale, Utah, is pictured sitting at the base of Red Rock Cliff mountains, with its sister city, C...

Associated Press

Guilty plea by leader of polygamous sect near the Arizona-Utah border is at risk of being thrown out

A guilty plea by the leader of an offshoot polygamous sect near the Arizona-Utah border is at risk of being thrown out.

10 hours ago

Picture of the Mitsubishi Montero that Phoenix police suspect hit an 11-year-old girl in a crosswal...

Damon Allred

Hit-and-run suspect sought in Phoenix after injuring child walking in crosswalk

Officers are searching for a hit-and-run suspect who hit an 11-year-old girl walking in a school crosswalk on Friday, Phoenix PD said.

13 hours ago

(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...

2 men die, another critically injured in south Phoenix shooting

Detectives are investigating a shooting that left two dead and another seriously injured in south Phoenix, police said.

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Sheriff Penzone calls contempt finding ‘scarlet letter,’ says MCSO in better place now