Judge chastises Penzone for leaving community meeting
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge who ordered an overhaul of the sheriff’s office in metro Phoenix in response to a 2013 racial profiling verdict chastised Sheriff Paul Penzone on Tuesday for skipping out on a community meeting aimed at helping restore public confidence in the agency.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow also said a representative of a firm that conducted the latest study of the agency’s traffic stops lied during the Oct. 15 community meeting when she said the analysis didn’t uncover actual evidence of bias.
The judge said the statement was a disservice to the Latino community and makes him wonder whether the sheriff’s office is operating in good faith.
“I was mildly nauseated when I read the briefings,” Snow said of court filings over the community meeting and traffic stop study.
Lawyers who pressed the profiling case against the sheriff’s office have accused Penzone of failing to meaningfully comply with a requirement to engage community members in a bid to restore public confidence in the agency. Penzone attorney Brian Palmer said the agency wasn’t hostile toward engaging the community.
The sheriff’s office is required to participate in community meetings and produce an annual traffic stop study in response to a 2013 verdict that found sheriff’s officers profiled Latinos in then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration patrols.
Penzone attended the Oct. 15 community meeting in Phoenix, but he moved to the back of the crowded room to give others access to the gathering, the sheriff’s lawyers said.
His lawyers say Penzone spoke with people outside the meeting for over an hour, but he left out of concern that the event could turn into a spectacle because journalists who were following him around were preventing interaction with community members.
The sheriff’s office has acknowledged there should have been better communication among its staff and court officials about the agency’s role during the meeting. The agency said the communication problem has been resolved.
The traffic stop study concluded that stops involving Hispanic and black drivers were more likely to be longer and result in arrests than stops involving other drivers, echoing conclusions from earlier studies.
The latest study, released in late September, examined more than 24,000 traffic stops over an 18-month period ending in December 2018.
While the study didn’t establish bias as the cause of the uneven treatment of drivers, it’s evidence of bias, Snow said.
Ten days after the community meeting, Penzone issued a statement saying the disparate outcomes in stops involving minorities remain a major concern for his office and may be indicative of a systemic problem.
The sheriff had said his office will continue to work to determine the cause of the disparate outcomes and how to confront racial bias in its patrol operations.
This summer, Snow transferred control of the community meetings from Penzone to an official who monitors the agency on behalf of the court.
The change was made after the judge raised questions about how Penzone’s office was conducting meetings, such as scheduling one gathering during a weekday morning, rather than holding it in the evenings when more people would be available. The agency later moved the start time to the evening.
It marked the second time in the profiling case that responsibility for the meetings was transferred to the court monitor.
Five years ago, the monitor took over that duty after the sheriff’s office, under Arpaio’s leadership, opposed having to hold the meetings. At the time, the agency was criticized for scheduling the meetings at times and locations where the public wasn’t as likely to attend.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at www.twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.