Sheriff Napier addresses Pima County supervisors

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier defends his department’s use of Operation Stonegarden funds.

A $1.4 million federal border security grant that Pima County has received for more than a decade has been terminated.

On Tuesday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to sever the agreement with the federal government, which allocates funds to cover overtime, mileage and equipment costs for the Sheriff’s Department in an effort to encourage collaboration between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

The supervisors have been wrestling with the decision over whether to accept the federal dollars, better known as Operation Stonegarden, since February, when they initially voted to reject the funds before reversing course and approving the grant weeks later.

However, as public outcry over federal immigration activities boiled over this summer, the activities of the Sheriff’s Department were being linked to the separation of families at the border and thousands of children being taken to immigration detention facilities across the country.

Supervisor Ramón Valadez — long considered the swing vote on the board — said he worried for months about the unintended consequences of his decision to approve the Stonegarden funding.

After hours of public testimony, with roughly 80 percent of roughly 75 speakers asking the supervisors to reject the grant, Valadez said he was concerned the public’s trust in Pima County deputies has eroded.

He blamed the Trump administration specifically for the gradual destruction of the confidence in local law enforcement, saying the federal government’s aggressive actions related to immigration is the root cause of the mistrust.

Valadez, who has previously voted against and for Stonegarden funding, sided with Supervisors Sharon Bronson and Richard Elías to terminate the contract.

Supervisor Steve Christy was the lone vote against terminating the grant, saying a small group of activists was dominating the debate.

“You do not represent the total feelings or desires of Pima County residents or even come close to representing a majority of our citizens,” Christy said.

“How many different ways does (Pima County) Sheriff (Mark) Napier and other law enforcement agencies have to affirm that the Pima County Sheriff’s Department does not and will not enforce federal immigration laws?” Christy asked the audience.

Supervisor Ally Miller did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Napier said he was deeply disappointed by the supervisors’ decision, saying he would have to re-evaluate whether his budget will allow him to keep remote offices open in areas like Three Points and Ajo.

If the department isn’t patrolling those areas, it’s likely federal or state employees would be sent to the area, with the county being unable to exercise any control over either of those entities, Napier has said.

Terminating the contract less than three months before it is scheduled to end also raises the question of whether funds or equipment will have to be returned.

Napier told the Star late last month that since the grant was approved in February, his department has spent more than $500,000 of the funds.

Activites related to Operation Stonegarden are expected to end within the next 30 days.

The Stonegarden decision does not impact the Sheriff’s Department policy of having Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers operating inside the Pima County jail.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

Reporter

Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.