The good guys won this one!!!!
(When are the people of this county going to finally just run that man out of office?)
Seven political activists claiming their civil rights were violated after they were arrested and cited for protesting against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration policies recently were awarded nearly $475,000 by Maricopa County.
The settlement, reached this week, was nine times more than what the county's self-insured trust had originally authorized in February, and significantly higher than what the county planned to offer just days before the settlement, according to memos obtained by The Arizona Republic.
Cari Gerchick, a county spokeswoman, said the earlier authorization "was an unreasonable amount" for the plaintiffs, and it would not have settled the case. She said the county's goal was to "minimize taxpayer exposure," and settling the case was far less expensive than going to trial.
But Chief Deputy David Hendershott of the Sheriff's Office called the settlement a "fraud on the taxpayers." He said the county should have settled for far less or forced the activists to go to court. Hendershott accused the county of settling to keep supervisors from being questioned in depositions.
The Sheriff's Office, he said, would have been allowed to participate in the depositions and would have questioned Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox about criminal investigations the Sheriff's Office had conducted against them. Investigations into questionable financial dealings by Stapley and Wilcox resulted in indictments, but all charges have been dropped.
Gerchick called Hendershott's allegation "ridiculous" and said the settlement had nothing to do with the ongoing battle between the Sheriff's Office and the supervisors. The settlement stems from the arrests and citation of protesters on Dec. 15, 2008, on the 10th floor of Maricopa County's administration building and two days later at a Board of Supervisors meeting. Some protesters wore animal masks and pig snouts.
All were later acquitted. They sued the county for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and civil-rights violations. The activists have been vocal critics of Arpaio and his immigration policies.
The settlements, reached Tuesday evening, will pay:
• Monica Sandschafer and Kristy Theilen each $99,999.
• Jason Odhner and Joel Nelson each $75,000.
• Guillermina Bethancourt and Ayensa Millan each $50,000.
• Raquel Teran $24,700.
County Manager David Smith said the settlement was a business decision. He estimated that going to trial on the cases could cost "at least $1 million in the first six months, just to defend them."
"You'd end up going round and round, grinding up all kinds of resources and spending two to three times the amount," Smith said. "Once again, the Sheriff's Office is creating these liabilities against the county. If it's 'fraud,' it's a fraud committed by virtue of bad acts."
The county expects to make the payouts within the next few weeks.
Records obtained by The Republic show the county intended to pay much less.
Maria Brandon is an attorney who works in the county's office of special-litigation services. She was appointed to represent the Sheriff's Office.
In memos sent to the Sheriff's Office days before the July 6 mediation hearing, Brandon stated that the county intended to start discussions with an offer of $2,000 per person and had no intention of giving away a lot of money. She indicated she received approval from the county trust in February to pay only up to $7,500 per plaintiff.
The county increased the payouts because, according to one of Brandon's memos, attorneys Brad Keogh and Wade Swanson, who report to the Board of Supervisors, and Assistant Risk Manager Rocky Armfield later went to the trust without her knowledge and received authority to pay up to $100,000 per plaintiff.
"I don't know why they did what they did, and I'm sure they have their reasons," Brandon said in an interview.
Swanson and Keogh declined to answer questions. Armfield could not be reached regarding Brandon's claim.
In a July 2 memo, Brandon stated that she and Armfield argued about the protesters, and he said it was OK to protest at the county's headquarters.
"He says the animal masks and pig snouts are for 'fun.' I said, 'Will they like it the next time if it is skinheads and neo Nazis?' " Brandon wrote.
Randy Parraz is another activist who filed a claim and is asking for $500,000. He withdrew from mediation and said negotiations are ongoing.
"In the event it doesn't get resolved, we have a lawsuit that's ready to be filed," Parraz said. "We're still engaged; we're still talking."