Lake Pleasant deaths, jail drug seizures: MCSO Sheriff Paul Penzone makes department announcements

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon on several different topics, including recent Lake Pleasant deaths, the status of jail body scanners and K-9 officers.

The 3 p.m. press conference was held at the sheriff's office headquarters on Aug. 2.

MCSO spokesperson Norma Gutierrez says more topics include:

  • Drug seizures in jails
  • Status of motor squads
  • Melendres compliance
  • Fugitive Apprehension Task Enforcement (FATE) Unit arrests

In January of this year, Penzone revealed that a detention officer tried to bring meth and fentanyl into the Lower Buckeye Jail.

Andres Salazar is the officer accused of several felony counts related to these accusations, Penzone said during the press conference on Jan. 11.

At that point, Penzone said he was at a stage where he was calling for the purchase of scanning machines for all jails to check for any incoming contraband in Maricopa County. Those machines could cost $165,985 each.

Overview of Penzone's announcements

Penzone announced body scanners and property scanners are installed in all five jails now. The next step is to hire employees responsible for managing the scanners.

He wants them in use by Aug. 7.

He says the fentanyl crisis goes beyond one employee attempting to bring in meth and fentanyl, too.

From April to July of this year, they've seized over a thousand fentanyl pills in the jails, he says, resulting in 32 people receiving 63 additional felony charges.

About 200 inmates have been taken to the ER for an overdose this year.

"So, this last year, which would have been 2022-2023 the fiscal year, there was a 17% decrease of deaths in the jail from the previous year. So, fortunately, that's moving in the right direction, but it is still a big number and a big challenge," the sheriff said.

He also addressed a class action lawsuit filed in 2007 where MCSO was found to use racial profiling during unlawful traffic stops on Latinos under previous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As a result, the sheriff's office is under a court order to overhaul its internal affairs and traffic patrols.

Almost a year ago, Penzone was found in civil contempt for not fully complying.

The bill for the ongoing legal issue is expected to cost taxpayers $273 million by next summer.

Penzone says some of the challenges are the time it takes to close the misconduct investigations.

Back to the drug issue, MCSO says they will be getting four additional drug-sniffing K-9s that will work full-time in the jails – once they are here, they will get additional training with their handlers.

Penzone says he hopes to have this department functional by mid to late October.

The sheriff also announced he'll be bringing back motorcycle deputies which he says the department hasn't seen in more than 15 years.

Watch the full press conference

This story will be updated after the press conference ends.