A Pima County constable has been suspended over his decision earlier this year to delay an eviction notice rather than enforce the order quickly.
A property owner in Constable Oscar Vasquez’s precinct filed a complaint with the state Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board after he failed to immediately evict a tenant on the premises. He claimed he was trying to find a temporary place for the tenant and her children before enforcing the order.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted last week 3-2 to suspend Vasquez for 180 days after the state ethics board unanimously voted to urge him to resign.
Vasquez refused to resign and will opt for the suspension instead.
“The Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board, No. 1, they seem heartless, and basically a partisan committee picked by the governor or the Governor’s Office,” Vasquez said. “They just took it as, ‘I defied the law and I should be punished for it,’ and they are using my past for the present. I had some issues before with them, and I was sanctioned for that. I have done my time.”
Vasquez has faced other complaints before, which included speeding, damaging several vehicles and confronting a citizen during an incident.
“I had some issues before with (the board), and I was sanctioned for that,” he said. “I have done my time.”
Multiple attempts to reach the Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board were unsuccessful.
Vasquez’s past violations were taken into consideration, Scott Blake, chairman of the state ethics board, told the Arizona Daily Star.
“When you continue to not follow the rules and get in front of the ethics board, and they move forward with the complaint, then the severity of the punishment can continue to move up depending on what it is,” he told the paper.
The suspension stems from an eviction notice that Vasquez, the constable for Justice Precinct 4, was asked to serve in February. According to Vasquez, the property owner contacted him shortly after he received the notice, advising him the tenant did not have another place to live upon vacating the premises.
Given the increasing number of evictions in Arizona, the Pima County board hired a social worker to help stem the number of people forced to live without shelter after an eviction.
Vasquez called the social services worker to assist the family in finding another place to stay.
Given the backlog, there was a delay at the time of eight to nine days in finding a family a home. Once a temporary place was found, Vasquez enforced the eviction and vacated the tenant from the property.
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The property owner’s complaint alleges Vasquez did not enforce the eviction order. He said he did, just not immediately, because he was working with the social worker to find another location for the tenant.
“Basically, I was sanctioned, or punished, for using the tool that the county Board of Supervisors voted to give us: a social worker,” Vasquez said.
Multiple messages asking for comment were left with members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Another Pima County constable said securing temporary shelter for a family is not grounds for delaying an eviction.
“Our job is to execute the court order, not to make a secondary judgment,” said Michael Stevenson, presiding constable for Pima County. “When the court says an eviction has to be done and it has to be done immediately, we are supposed to do it.”
The eviction was not because of nonpayment, but a breach of contract, meaning the tenant violated the terms of living on the premises in some fashion. That violation is not covered under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions, and calls for the tenant to be evicted immediately.
A recent investigation by The Arizona Republic found that constables enforcing evictions can vary because they have some discretion in how they enforce eviction notices.
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Unlike Pima County, Maricopa County does not have a social worker to assist those who have been evicted.
Vasquez has been sanctioned before, including at one time for driving too fast in a county vehicle.
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For his part, Vasquez said he believes he was simply enforcing the order in a manner consistent with what the Board of Supervisors wanted.
“It doesn’t seem like the Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board understands how our social worker and our office operates,” Vasquez said. “I think we are the first constables’ office that actually has a social worker to reduce the problem that we have here with homelessness and the dire issue of being out on the street after being evicted.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.
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AUTHOR: Ralph Chapoco