A Maricopa County justice of the peace said Monday that a defendant who was arrested last year for clapping during a public meeting was “objectively accurate” when she called the deputy arresting her a “fascist.”
In a ruling published yesterday (PDF), Justice of the Peace Steven McMurry slammed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for the incident in which five local activists were arrested and eventually charged with disrupting a Dec. 17, 2008 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.
The activists had been speaking out against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration enforcement and were applauding one another when deputies moved in to arrest them, then hauled them out of the meeting.
Having already thrown out all charges, McMurry decided in his ruling to make the county pay for the legal costs that the activists racked up in defending themselves.
“This is such an extreme case, with the sheriff’s deputies trampling on the First Amendment and being aided and abetted by the county attorney,” McMurry wrote in his ruling. “It has to stop.”
He told the activists to tally up their legal bills and send them to him.
The county attorney’s spokesman, Mike Scerbo, referred all questions in the case to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s staff did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The five activists – Joel Nelson, Jason Ohdner, Monica Sandschafer, Raquel Teran and Kristi Theilen – were regular attendees of the Board of Supervisors meetings and were part of a group that regularly used the public speaking periods there to ask the county’s elected leaders to put the brakes on the sheriff.
But it was the stifled cries of one of those activists, Theilen, that McMurry capitalized on in his ruling. He pointed to a recording of the meeting in which Theilen could be heard being carted away.
“One can hear her, between sobs, describing…the actions of the arresting officer, Deputy (George) Acritelli, as those of a ‘fascist’,” McMurry wrote. He went on to say that the prosecutor’s account of the event was nowhere near what really happened.
Then McMurry added his strongest blow: “The court now sadly concludes that Ms. Theilen’s description of the events is more balanced and objectively accurate than that of the county attorney.”