Detention officer Adam Stoddard is captured on courtroom videotape taking a document from a defense attorney’s file behind her back.
Maricopa County detention officer Adam Stoddard was back in court Thursday to explain why he sneaked a document out of a defense attorney’s file behind her back a few weeks ago, stunning attorneys nationwide after the whole thing was caught on a courtroom videotape.
JJ Hensley of the Arizona Republic was at the hearing and wrote Friday that Stoddard continued to defend his actions as a legal search because he believed a crime was perhaps taking place. Stoddard was also finally allowed to tell the court which “keywords” he saw on the document that sent him into action. Hensley wrote:
“Going to,” “steal” and “money.”
Those four words, grouped in the same sentence, prompted a Maricopa County sheriff’s detention officer to remove documents from a defense attorney’s
file last month, according to court testimony Thursday.
Officer Adam Stoddard testified that a handful of factors contributed to his decision to position himself behind the defendant, Antonio Solis Lozano, during Lozano’s Oct. 19 sentencing hearing. And while Stoddard was there, his eyes “glazed over” a document with the four words that caught his attention.
The revelation of those four keywords likely means that Lozano, the defendant, has waived his attorney-client privilege regarding the handwritten letter Stoddard took from the file.
On Oct. 30, Judge Gary Donahoe determined the document was subject to the privilege, meaning its contents could not be revealed to the public unless the defendant waived his right to keep it private. Donahoe said at the time the document appeared to contain no coded messages or anything illegal.
The judge said Stoddard was not even allowed to say which words cause him to take the document from the file because Donahoe was afraid it would further violate Lozano’s rights. That was not an issue Thursday, however, as Stoddard talked about the words on the page.
The Republic also reported that Donahoe at some point during the hearing ordered the packed courtroom cleared for an hour while he spoke to attorneys representing the various sides. It’s not clear why it did this, but it adds to the mystery of the entire situation. Last week, Donahoe also ordered transcripts of the ongoing hearing, as well as the videotape of Stoddard’s original actions, sealed from public release.
Despite the orders, though, the video was already public. And after Heat City posted it online, it ricocheted across the nation, appearing on CNN and the website of Reason Magazine, where it earned the home of Phoenix the nickname of “Marikafka County.” It also went viral on YouTube, garnering about 60,000 views in four days.
Scott Greenfield, a criminal defense attorney in New York who runs the law blog Simple Justice, called Stoddard’s actions “blatant, outrageous and yes, illegal.” He explained the situation this way:
Court officers provide security for the courtroom. As such, they are entitled to check everything that comes in for any dangerous objects and contraband, and that includes a defense lawyer’s file. That means that they may properly scan the file to do their job, but reading the contents of papers within a file is entirely outside the scope of their authority. A staple may be considered a weapon. The words on paper is none of their business.
Donahoe has still not decided whether Stoddard’s actions were legal or whether it will affect Lozano’s case. At the time the documents were taken, Lozano was about to be sentenced for attacking another inmate last year. The sentencing was put on hold, however, when Lozano’s attorney figured out what was going on.
The hearing to decide what to do with Stoddard and the rest of the case is scheduled to continue Tuesday.