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Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Fed sue Arpaio over racial profiling, retaliation

Suit alleges civil rights violations by Maricopa County Sheriff

The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint Thursday against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, alleging racial profiling, discrimination in the Maricopa County Jail, and illegal retaliation against critics of the sheriff.

In December, the feds said Arpaio engaged in "wide-ranging discrimination against Latinos and retaliatory actions against individuals who criticized" his office.

Justice said in a news release Thursday that Arpaio and his office "refused to agree to any independent oversight by a monitor."

"Since approximately 2006, MCSO and Sheriff Arpaio have intentionally and systematically discriminated against Latinos," the department said.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office practices racial profiling in traffic stops and immigration sweeps, and discriminates against Spanish-speaking inmates in county jails, a Justice Department report alleged last year.

The 32-page complaint filed Thursday echoed those findings, saying that Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office engage in a pattern of:

  • Discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos who are frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin;
  • Discriminatory jail practices against Latino inmates with limited English skills; and
  • Illegal retaliation against their perceived critics, subjecting them to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits, or meritless administrative actions.

"This is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff's office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in the release.

"Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand in hand. The complaint outlines how Sheriff Arpaio's actions were neither constitutional nor effective," Perez said.

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Latino drivers are four to nine times as likely to be stopped by MCSO than non-Latino drivers, Justice said in the 2011 report.

One-fifth of the traffic-related incident reports generated by MCSO's Human Smuggling Unit over three years, almost all of which involved Latino drivers, "contained information indicating that the stops were conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures," Justice said.

Some legal residents were treated as if they were illegal immigrants, and some were even taken to jail, the report said.

Latino inmates were punished if they understood or spoke English poorly, and some were denied services available to English speakers, the report said.

"Our investigation uncovered a number of instances in which immigration-related crime suppression activities were initiated in the community after MCSO received complaints that described no criminal activity, put rather referred, for instance, to individuals with "dark skin" congregating in one area, or individuals speaking Spanish at a local business. The use of these types of bias-infected indicators as a basis for conducting enforcement activity contributes to the high number of stops and detentions lacking in legal justification," Justice said.

Suit seeks reform, independent monitor

The lawsuit asks the court to order changes in Maricopa County policies and the training of sheriff's deputies. It asks the court to require that MCSO:

  • Develop and implement new policies and procedures and train MCSO officers in effective and constitutional policing;
  • Implement systems to ensure accountability and improve the quality of policing throughout the county; and
  • Eliminate unlawful bias from all levels of law enforcement decision.

The suit also seeks the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the proposed reforms.

Violent crime increased as MCSO focused on immigration

Arpaio's "prioritization of immigration enforcement may have compromised its ability to secure the safety and security of Maricopa County residents. Since MCSO shifted its focus toward combating illegal immigration, violent crime rates in the county have increased significantly as compared to similarly situated jurisdictions," Justice said.

"From 2004 to the end of 2007, reported violent crimes grew by over 69 percent, including a 166 percent increase in homicides over the three-year period. Since 2008, violent crime rates have remained at roughly the same level in Maricopa County, while dropping by over 10 percent in similarly situated jurisdictions," Justice said.

Last year, the department expanded its inquiry to encompass some 400 sex crimes on which Arpaio's office did little or no investigation.

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Bob Daemmerich/Texas Tribune

Arpaio, who served as Arizona chairman for the presidential campaign of Rick Perry (background), is the focus of a federal complaint alleging civil rights violations.

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Grijalva hails suit

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva issued a statement Thursday afternoon applauding the suit against Arpaio:

Sheriff Arpaio has targeted the Latino community for years in violation of his sworn duties as a law enforcement officer. Instead of focusing on the job he was elected to do, he has spent untold taxpayer dollars building his personal reputation at the expense of his own community’s safety. The more than 400 sex crime cases he allowed to go uninvestigated were apparently not the end of his professional misconduct. Since this federal investigation began, he has shown profound disrespect not only for the people he serves, but for the federal officials who have tried in good faith to get simple answers to simple questions about his conduct. His disregard for duty and justice has eroded public trust in his office, and DOJ has rightly taken action to end the culture of profiling and retaliation he created at taxpayer expense.