Sheriff’s Office Defies Judge On Order For System Password

By Michael Kiefer and Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Friday ordered that the Sheriff’s Office divulge the password it forcefully installed on a county computer system linked to sensitive state and federal criminal-justice data.

But Chief Deputy David Hendershott later said he will refuse to share the password – even if it means he goes to jail.

During the Friday hearing, Judge Joseph Heilman said that if the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t divulge the password by Wednesday, he will “hold someone in contempt of court.”

“I assume it’s going to be someone seated at this table,” he added, referring to Hendershott.

Hendershott said he could not reveal the password under federal law. And if he goes to jail: “I bet I get a pretty decent place. Something with a view of the dump.”

Heilman would not comment on the remark.

Since April, Heilman has presided over a lawsuit between the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors over operation of the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System, an electronic hub that allows the county’s criminal-justice agencies to share information.

Taking control

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office took control of the system from county employees and changed a password to prevent civilians from having access to the sensitive data.

The system links the criminal-justice agencies to state and national databases that hold criminal records, court dates, probation and personal information, and other records.

The supervisors and county administrators tried to get a temporary restraining order against the Sheriff’s Office and get the system back under their control.

The judge did not grant the restraining order.

The judge also ordered the Sheriff’s Office to call a meeting in his courtroom on Tuesday with “stakeholders” who are supposed to control the system.

Those stakeholders include the Sheriff’s and County Attorney’s offices, indigent-defense agencies, adult probation and the Superior Court.

Wade Swanson, director of the county’s civil-litigation department, called the judge’s ruling a win for the Board of Supervisors: “He reversed what the sheriff did on Wednesday.”

County Manager David Smith, meanwhile, said the ruling took the county “back to a civilized way of doing business.”

However, county attorney spokesman Barnett Lotstein said the sheriff’s witnesses were not given much time.

During the two-day hearing, county witnesses gave testimony on Thursday and Friday, while Lotstein said the sheriff’s witnesses weren’t given time to present their case.

Lotstein said the sheriff “may very well have been deprived of due process.”

“The sheriff was denied his day in court this afternoon,” he added.

State, federal law

Under state and federal law, a criminal-justice agency must manage the system or county agencies could lose access to the National Criminal Information Center and the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System. However, the integrated system now is under county control.

The county has been trying to figure out a new management system, but because of the tension among the county, the Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney’s Office, they have been deadlocked.

Kerry Martin, an attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, told the court that the office changed the password because county managers were trying to force the office to agree to a management system they disagree with.

Heilman repeatedly asked Martin why he did not come to the court before the takeover.

Martin answered that the Sheriff’s Office did not need approval and had the authority to take control.

The judge also ordered that no further changes be made to the computer system by anyone during the length of the lawsuit.

Hendershott said the Sheriff’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into suspected mismanagement of the computer system.

He said the investigation targets Superior Court presiding Judge Barbara Mundell, County Manager Smith and other county personnel.

He did not provide details on the investigation.
Joe Arpaio is the maricopa county sheriff.
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