Ariz. Sheriff's Office, County Battle Over Control of Archived E-Mails

Last month, an attorney for the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office told a federal judge that the office hadn’t kept thousands of e-mails that could have been turned over to plaintiffs who had filed a civil suit against the office alleging racial profiling. The judge sanctioned the Sheriff’s Office.

But last week, county officials announced that those e-mails had actually been archived in response to an order by a county attorney in an unrelated lawsuit involving the county treasurer, the Arizona Republic reported.

County attorney Julie Pace told the Republic that not only were some of the e-mails relevant to the civil racial profiling suit, but others had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating allegations that the office is abusing power.

The Sheriff’s Office says the e-mails are its property. The Republic said that Sheriff’s Commander Bob Rampy approached county technology managers and demanded the e-mails be turned over, but the county refused, saying the e-mails are county property.

“They never once told anybody that for the last 2½ years, they’ve been backing up every single e-mail,” Sheriff’s Office attorney Eric Dowell said. “If some attorney is looking at my attorney-client [privileged] e-mails, there are going to be some ethical problems.”

Meanwhile, Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch has appointed a special investigator to probe Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas as a result of allegations that Thomas acted unethically in prosecutions of county officials. Thomas is already being investigated by the FBI for potential abuses of power.

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