Detention officer Adam Stoddard is shown on courtroom videotape taking a document from a defense attorney’s file.
If he doesn’t make a grand public apology to a defense attorney soon, a Maricopa County detention officer could find himself inside a jail cell rather than tending them.
A Maricopa County judge on Tuesday ordered detention officer Adam Stoddard to hold a news conference and publicly apologize for swiping a document from a defense attorney’s file behind her back last month in an incident caught on courtroom videotape. If the Maricopa County Sheriff’s officer refuses or the defense attorney decides the apology is not “sufficient,” Judge Gary Donahoe’s ruling said he would throw Stoddard in jail.
Donahoe’s ruling held Stoddard in contempt for the Oct. 19 incident in which he could be seen on a courtroom security video sneaking up behind attorney Joanne Cuccia in the middle of a hearing and taking a document from her file.
During several days of testimony following the incident, Stoddard said he happened to have glanced at the file and saw the words “going to,” “steal” and “money” grouped together in a sentence. It made him think a crime was taking place and gave him the authority to pull the document, he said.
But Donahoe rejected that story, saying there’s no way “a reasonable detention officer” would have thought a crime was taking place based on what he saw.
“There was no immediate or future security threat that would have justified a reasonable detention officer in DO Stoddard’s situation removing, seizing and coping a document from a defense attorney’s file,” Donahoe wrote in his ruling, which was made public today. “A reasonable detention officer would have recognized after spending approximately 37 seconds reading the paragraph in question, that the ‘key words’ had nothing to do with an immediate or future security threat to the jail or anyone else.”
Donahoe was skeptical last week that Arizona law gave him any authority to punish Stoddard for taking the file. But in the ruling, Donahoe said he found case law that allowed him to do it. It had to do with a 1995 case in which a judge determined that something that took place outside of his or her courtroom still affected the integrity of the court.
“This case is not about disobeying a court order,” Donahoe wrote. “It is about protecting a defense attorney from misbehavior and harassment by another officer of the court.”
Donahoe’s ruling is extraordinary in other ways, too. Not only does it force Stoddard to hold a news conference or else go to jail, it lays out the specifics of what the news conference will look like.
The judge said the news conference should take place on or before Nov. 30 in the plaza on the north side of the central building Maricopa County Superior Courthouse. There, Stoddard is to give the defense attorney a “sincere verbal and written apology for invading her defense file and for the damage that his conduct may have caused to her professional reputation,” the judge ruled. Stoddard is also supposed to make sure that a press release is sent out to all print and broadcast media in Maricopa County at least 24 hours before the public apology.
Lastly, the judge gave Cuccia the authority to determine whether the apology is sufficient. If not, then Stoddard will be thrown in jail on Dec. 1 and Donahoe will figure out what to do with him then.
Cuccia said last week she was concerned about her professional reputation because of what happened. In multiple public statements, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said deputies and detention officers had been on high alert recently because two separate defense attorneys had allegedly helped smuggle drugs and other items to their clients who were members of the Mexica Mafia. Stoddard said he was on particularly high alert that day because Cuccia’s client, Antonio Lozano, was a documented member of the Mexican Mafia.
Donahoe said in his ruling those kinds of statements, which cast false suspicion on an attorney with a good record, are exactly why he is making Stoddard apologize in such a public fashion.
“Because it was the public dissemination of the information that may have damaged Ms. Cuccia’s reputation, perhaps by the public dissemination of information, any damage can be corrected or at least lessened,” he wrote.
While Donahoe went full-throttle on Stoddard, he was far easier on the other sheriff’s employee shown on the Oct. 19 video. The judge determined that deputy Francisco Campillo was basically asked by a colleague to make a copy of a document, and did so without reading it. Donahoe declined to hold Camillo in contempt.
The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Update: Sheriff Joe Arpaio and an attorney for his office say there’s slim chance Stoddard will either apologize or go to jail in the case. They plan to fight the judge’s order. Read more here.
Courtroom video of the Oct. 19 incident: