PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is dedicating at least 18 detectives to the criminal investigation of one of its own deputies who died of an apparent suicide after his arrest and resignation.
The issue has the attention of the judge presiding over the racial profiling case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Questions are surfacing over whether former Deputy Ramon “Charley” Armendariz may have been targeting Latinos.
Before Armendariz's apparent suicide earlier this month, he was arrested on drugs and weapons charges.
Along with the drugs and illegal weapon found at his home was a stash of license plates, IDs, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards, car registrations and passports belonging to other people.
He had collected almost 200 driver's licenses and state IDs from Arizona and other states, as well as 180 Mexican licenses and consular IDs, according to recently released transcripts of statements made by MCSO personnel in court.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow asked whether Armendariz may have been “shaking down some illegal aliens,” according to recently unsealed court transcripts.
“That is part of our understanding,” MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said. “He very well could have. What’s mysterious to me is why we didn’t get any complaints from those people.”
Tim Casey, an attorney who represents the Sheriff’s Office, said an analysis is underway to see how many of the recovered IDs had Hispanic surnames.
Lawyers representing the Sheriff’s Office first brought up these details to Snow on May 7. Snow is overseeing sweeping changes at MCSO after finding the department violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers.
This isn’t the first connection between Armendariz and the racial profiling case. The former deputy had testified in the July 2012 trial because two plaintiffs in the case alleged he had unlawfully stopped and detained them.
Court hearings related to the recent relevations about Armendariz were initially kept under seal because of the ongoing criminal investigation. Transcripts from closed-door hearings were released late Friday.
Lawyers from the Sheriff’s Office also said in court that other members of MCSO could wind up implicated in the criminal investigation into Armendariz’s activities.
In a closed-door hearing held on May 14, Snow said to Arpaio it was the sheriff’s job to ensure the truth comes out, no matter who it hurts.
Snow has ordered the Sheriff’s Office to find out if any other deputies were filming their traffic stops and to recover the footage. He also suggested there could be a risk that deputies might destroy any recordings they had made.
“I’m not saying that the bulk of your officers or deputies are crooked,” Snow told MCSO leaders. “But I’m certain that you share my interest in determining exactly what they’ve been doing and if any are crooked … finding out what their activities are.”
Traffic stop footage would also have been relevant evidence in the racial profiling case in which Snow concluded MCSO deputies improperly used race as a factor in its law enforcement decisions. Snow said he had been under the misimpression that no such recordings existed.
“And now that I find out that recording was going on, I believe that clearly, we need to find out what those recordings were and recover them,” Snow said.
MCSO leaders told Snow they have dedicated two teams of detectives to the Armendariz investigation. One team is reviewing the hundreds of disks of the former deputy’s traffic stop footage. He may have recorded between 2,500 and 5,000 stops, according to MCSO estimates.
Another team of 10 detectives, along with additional crime analysts and deputies, are trying to track down the people whose IDs and documents were found in Armendariz’s possession.
Sheriff's attorney Tim Casey told the judge his client hopes Armendariz was working alone.
“It is our hope that what we have here is a rogue person,” Casey said. “That’s what we hope. But I can tell you that the sheriff and his chief are absolutely committing to seeing the truth out, whatever it may be, and holding any and all persons responsible whatever might be the outcome.”