It has all the makings of a classic western: trouble brewing between two factions in Arizona over disputed territory, the law unable to head the confrontation off, people taking matters into their own hands, and it all culiminating in the inevitable showdown. Only in this case, the dispute is over computer territory, one of the factions is the law, and the other side is the county itself!
At issue is a multi-agency computer system which is shared between, and provides access and services for, the sheriff’s department, and several county agencies. The system, called the “Integrated Criminal Justice Information System” (ICJIS) has access to, among other things, state and Federal crime databases, such as the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) and the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System (ACJIS). The system also serves as an email server for several of the criminal justice agencies in the county, including the County Attorneys office, the Superior Court, and the sheriff’s office itself.
The problem started when the county’s Board of Supervisors decided to make some changes to the system, which included bringing the system under the management and control of that very same county Board of Supervisors.
The reason this was a ‘problem’ is because one of the requirements to access certain criminal justice and crime statistic databases, such as the NCIC, is that the system accessing the database is required to be under the control of a criminal justice agency.
Like the sheriff’s department, headed by Chief Deputy David Hendershott, which up until now has been the agency which had management and control of the computer system.
But under the new system that the county Board of Supervisors wants to implement, with management and control of the ICJIS resting with the county Board of Supervisors itself, there would not be a criminal justice agency managing the system.
Which, says Chief Deputy David Hendershott, would violate the requirements of access to the state and Federal databases, jeopardizing their access to these critical resources.
In fact, says Henderschott, Federal law requires ICJIS to be under the management and control of a criminal justice agency and so, his reasoning goes, he would be breaking Federal law to cede the management and control of ICJIS to a non-criminal justice agency.
The county, perhaps not surprisingly, didn’t see it that way, and so the sheriff’s office filed a lawsuit to stop the county taking over the computer system.
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But while the lawsuit was wending its way up the court calendar, the county took over the computer system anyways.
And when county staff took over the system, Hendershott and his staff staged a raid, during which they escorted the county sysadmins out of the area, and Hendershott had his staff install secret passwords on the system, effectively locking the county officials out of the system!
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The county responded by filing an emergency motion in Maricopa superior court, and superior court judge Joseph Heilman issued an order, ordering Hendershott to turn over the passwords.
But Hendershott refused, facing threats of contempt of court charges, because he believes his duty is to the Federal law, requiring that the computer system remain under the management and control of a criminal justice agency (which the county Board of Supervisors isn’t). The sheriff’s office’s lawyer says that they were acting within the scope of their authority. In addition, Hendershott has also stated that the sheriff’s office has an ongoing investigation “into suspected mismanagement of the computer system involving other judges,” as well as other county personnel, including Superior Court presiding Judge Barbara Mundell, and County Manager David Smith.
Despite being threatened directly by Judge Heilman with contempt of court (during a meeting with Hendershott and county officials Judge Heilman stated that if Hendershott doesn’t give up the password, Judge Heilman will “hold someone in contempt of court…I assume it’s going to be someone seated at this table,”) Hendershott has held fast. In fact, he quipped that if he did go to jail for contempt of court, “I bet I get a pretty decent place. Something with a view of the dump.”
Interestingly, Judge Heilman declined to issue a restraining order against the sheriff’s office, which the county had requested. Also interesting is county attorney Barnett Lotstein opining that Hendershott may have been denied due process, and noting that during a hearing that lasted two days, county witnesses were allowed to present testimony on both days, however the sheriff’s office wasn’t given any time during the hearing to present their side.
Says Lotstein, they “may very well have been deprived of due process. The sheriff was denied his day in court…”
Countered Wade Swanson, the attorney for the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff’s office’s “aggressive action” was “unsupportable, unwarranted and unprecedented,” adding that “The sheriff did not receive permission from – or give notice to – any other elected official or stakeholder agency before barging in with armed officers and demanding that he be given exclusive control.”
County Manager David Smith, one of the county officials allegedly being investigated by the sheriff’s office, called the action “the lowest common denominator of a thug, which is the use of force. The sheriff has no authority in law – or business practice – to do this. He just decided . . . to send in deputies and take over and kick the staff out. It’s a misappropriation of public assets.”
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