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Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends

by Ed Lyon

With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill -- now Graves v. Penzone, the name of the county’s current sheriff -- began.

Initially the case involved access to attorneys through telephone availability and overcrowded conditions with three pre-trial detainees as plaintiffs. The suit expanded to include and eventually revolve around the jail’s detainees not receiving medical and mental health care that meets constitutionally required minimum standards.

A local legal aid organization, Community Legal Services, filed the original lawsuit, maintaining it until 2005. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the helm, presumably in response to a 2001 judgment termination attempt initiated under the Arpaio administration.

In 1981, a multilateral consent decree was agreed to by the parties. In 1995, an amended judgment replaced the consent decree as jail administrators and staff continued to work at alleviating unconstitutional conditions. Therefore, the stipulated amended judgment did not include any determinations by the judge on the actual “constitutionally mandated standards applicable to the Maricopa County Jails.”

Resulting from Arpaio’s 2001 termination attempt, followed by a renewed effort in 2003 and the ACLU’s entry into the case, an evidentiary hearing was held, followed by protracted discovery until a new judge was assigned in 2008. Another evidentiary hearing was held resulting in a second amended judgment in October. Compliance hearings were held in 2009 resulting in the appointment of a monitor who was ordered to make quarterly reports.

By October 2011, some of the suit’s non-medical issues were agreed to be terminated by the parties. The remaining non-medical issues were terminated upon an unopposed motion by the defendants in May 2012, resulting in a third amended judgment. The medical issues were maintained with court appointed monitors reporting continued oversight of the jails.

In the midst of compliance and evidentiary hearings between 2012 and 2019, accompanied by newly elected Sheriff Paul Penzone’s efforts to bring physical and mental health care in his jails up to constitutional minimum standards, the court terminated the suit in 2019. This was based on the court’s determination that defendants had managed to substantially comply with the suit’s fourth amended judgment issued in 2014.

The final order in the case terminating the fourth amended judgment and denying the ACLU’s modification of the fourth amended judgment was entered on September 19, 2019. See: Graves v. Penzone, U.S.D.C., (D AZ), 2019 U.S.Dist. Lexis 159784. 


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Related legal case

Graves v. Penzone