Federal Grand Jury Investigating Arizona Sheriff at the Forefront of Immigration Enforcement

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the press in Phoenix. (File photo: Valeria Fernández)

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the press in Phoenix. (File photo: Valeria Fernández)

PHOENIX, Arizona – A federal grand jury is investigating the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office over allegations of abuse of power, according to county officials.

The head of the agency, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial figure at the forefront of an immigration crackdown, has been in the national news lately over accusations of racial profiling. Locally he has been the subject of protests over a number of criminal investigations he has allegedly launched against political opponents and critics.

Two Maricopa County officials, County Manager David Smith and Assistant Manager Sandi Wilson confirmed in an interview with local station Channel 5 that they were preparing to testify in front of a grand jury.

Richard De Uriarte, a spokesperson for Maricopa County government said that the two officials met on Thursday with a U.S. attorney who outlined the general areas of questioning related to abuse of power. Both officials are expected to testify before the grand jury next Wednesday.

In Feb. 2008 when the county was considering cuts in Arpaio’s budget both Wilson and Smith were investigated by the sheriff’s office.

Sandy Raynors, a spokesperson for the Arizona U.S. attorney said that given the secret nature of grand jury proceedings she could not confirm nor deny their existence.

Aaron Douglas, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office told Feet in 2 Worlds that neither Arpaio nor his officers would comment on the grand jury investigations.

“I have no idea what’s going on in the grand jury,” Arpaio told the Arizona Republic on Thursday. “I am not going to comment about grand jury activity- no matter what you hear.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has investigated the sheriff’s office over allegations of civil rights violations.

“Racial profiling is the least of his problems right now,” said Lydia Guzmán, president of the Somos America, a civil rights coalition that has a pending lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

Guzmán said the grand jury investigation of the sheriff’s office could be related to a number of issues that range from abuse of power to misuse of federal funds and the destruction of evidence.

The FBI is reportedly conducting an investigation of the sheriff’s office over allegations of abuse of power. Sources told Feet in 2 Worlds they have been interviewed by the FBI in reference to those allegations and misuse of funds.

In October, Channel 5 conducted a news investigation of allegations of retaliation by the sheriff’s office towards political opponents, journalists and county officials. They took some of the cases to former U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico David Iglesias.

Iglesias said that based on the evidence presented and investigations of his own if he were handling the case he “would seek an indictment.”

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AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.