Motorist in class action suit sees ‘justice’ in Arpaio criminal contempt verdict

PHOENIX – The driver who was at the heart of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s contempt of court case said the sheriff’s guilty verdict shows “justice is being served,” but he is still affected by the encounter seven years ago.

“It was quite humiliating and traumatic for me as well as it was for my wife,” Daniel Magos said. On Dec. 4, 2009, the day Magos was driving to his new job. A Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy driving behind him turned on his lights. Magos thought nothing of it, believing the deputy was headed toward a call.

Then, the deputy indicated he wanted Magos to pull over.

“I told my wife, ‘he’s coming after us.’ She said, ‘why?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Magos said.

Magos wasn’t the only one whose life changed course that day. Arpaio, whose office had been ordered by a judge to stop pulling over motorists just to check immigration status, was ultimately headed down a path that could lead to prison. He was found guilty of criminal contempt of court on Monday.

A body search and class action lawsuit

During the traffic stop, the deputy demanded Magos and his wife, Eva, show their driver licenses, registration and insurance.

“It was nothing but yelling, shouting and screaming, the whole time with his right hand on his gun,” Magos said.

Bad as that was, the body search was worse.

“Before he did the search I told him, ‘I already told you I didn’t have any drugs and the only weapon I have is the one I gave you.’ I said, ‘ so if you’re going to do a search, you’re going to do it against my consent,’ “Magos said.

Once he was done, the deputy said he pulled Magos over because his license plate wasn’t visible, not because of racial profiling.

Magos responded, “I’m glad you’re the one that mentioned it because that’s exactly what it is.”

Humiliated and angry, Magos filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. He became a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit accusing the sheriff’s office of systemic racial profiling.

‘Toughest sheriff’ in the country

Arpaio, who billed himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” and proudly said his office was taking a tough stance against illegal immigration, denies claims his office targeted Latinos.

But federal court judges said Arpaio’s office continued to stop Latinos who weren’t suspected of a crime and turning them over to federal immigration officials, even though local law enforcement has no jurisdiction over immigration laws.

And the sheriff continued the practice even after a federal court judge leveled civil contempt findings, according to a court ruling. Arpaio, who served more than two decades as sheriff before voters ousted him in November, was found guilty of criminal contempt on July 31. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said Arpaio “willfully violated” a court order.

Arpaio faces up to six months in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5, but his legal team said he will appeal.

“Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul, and he will continue his fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence and to protect the public,” his legal team said in a statement.

“Police generally stop someone for criminal violations. That’s exactly what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing,” defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik said after the verdict.

‘Give me a sign’

“Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio being found guilty by a federal judge means that he is a criminal, which is vindicating for a lot of people,” ACLU spokesman Steve Kilar said.

Still, Kilar said, Arpaio left lasting damage.

“What we face is still a culture that he created within MCSO that is incredibly problematic, that is filled with bias,” Kilar said. (MCSO, now led by Paul Penzone, said in a statement it would follow the law and reach out to members of the communities it serves.)

Magos has been waiting for justice in the case. His wife died 1 1/2 years ago of cancer. He still writes to her everyday, telling her about his day and sometimes asking for a sign.

Days before the judge’s verdict, he said his wife’s favorite flowers bloomed.