Outgoing Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone reflects on toughest days on the job

Nov 7, 2023, 4:22 PM | Updated: 4:44 pm

(Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone knows what his toughest days on the job will be after he departs the office at the start of the year. They were days that happened too often.

“It’s handing the flag to a family member who lost a loved one in the line of duty,” Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Gaydos and Chad Show on Tuesday.

Penzone said one instance in his tenure has especially stuck with him. Deputy Juan “Johnny” Ruiz was beaten by an inmate during processing at a sheriff’s substation outside Phoenix in October 2021.

Ruiz was found knocked out and bleeding. He died two days after the incident at 45.

Penzone said the ensuing days elicited a response from him that was unusual for him.

“I had spoken to my wife and she’s always my muse and I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to say something uncommon for me because I have to,'” Penzone said. “I’m looking at these men and women in their face and all they’re ready to do the job.

“They need a shot of adrenaline that their sheriff is out in front and not following behind on this one. I did a news conference and I called the bad guy a scumbag POS and I said he’s either going to jail or somewhere else tonight. Just to see the men and women respond to that because they know the task at hand and the loss of their friend and their colleague.”

Clinton Robert Hurley, 30, was the man accused of overpowering Ruiz and taking the deputy’s vehicle to escape, crashing through a gate.

Hurley was on probation from a 2012 case in which he served time in prison after pleading guilty to attempted child molestation, according to court and prison records.

Ruiz had served with MCSO for three years.

“This is the most difficult and the most important thing that you do if you’re a law enforcement leader because if you don’t show respect to that family and let them know that their loved one lost was not in vain, then you have dramatically failed,” Penzone said. “So, those are always the heaviest days.”

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Outgoing Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone reflects on toughest days on the job