Thursday May 10, 201210:26 PM GMT
Justice Department sues Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio for 'targeting Latinos'
Thu May 10, 2012 10:22PM
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Joe Arpaio holding his badge.

The Justice Department on Thursday sued Joe Arpaio, a prominent Arizona sheriff known for his crackdowns aimed at rounding up illegal immigrants, accusing him of discrimination and retaliating against his critics. The move, in an election year, escalated a politically charged fight over local enforcement of federal immigration laws and the civil rights of Latinos.

 

In a 32-page civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio and his Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Justice Department contended that Arpaio's campaign against illegal immigration - including traffic stops and sweeps of homes and workplaces - had resulted in a "pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination" aimed at Latinos.

 

Arpaio's focus on immigration enforcement has eroded the relationship between law enforcement and the Latino community, with Latinos growing increasingly wary of cooperating with the authorities when they are victims or witnesses of crimes. The lawsuit also argues that the resources devoted to the sweeps have required the sheriff's office to put a lower priority on traditional local law enforcement responsibilities, like investigating rapes and domestic violence.

 

"The United States is not seeking, and has never sought, monetary damages or attorney's fees in connection with our case," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a news conference. The goal, Perez said, is "to fix the problems" and to "ensure that the necessary policies, practices and oversight are in place" to prevent them from happening again.

 

The conduct of the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office and Arpaio "is neither constitutional nor effective law enforcement," the Justice Department argued in court papers. "The defendantsviolations of the Constitution and laws of the United States are the product of a culture of disregard for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization." NY Times

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

The lawsuit could proceed quickly or slowly, Perez said, depending upon the sheriff's cooperation. "I am confident that we could forge solutions that are sustainable that make the community safer," he said "but you have to have the will on both sides to do so." Raw Story

 

Citing the sheriff's lack of cooperation in this investigation, his "stonewalling" in an earlier investigation from 2008 and the MCSD's failure to comply with the ruling in a 1997 civil rights suit, Asst. Attorney General Perez said, "Thus far, that will on the part of the Sheriff's office and the Sheriff himself has proven to be elusive." Raw Story

  

"Undeniably, justice has been delayed in this case," he said. "But we are here today to say that it will not be denied." Raw Story

 

The ACLU responded to news of the Justice Department's suit with a statement from Cecillia Wang, director of the organizations Immigrants Rights Project that read, in part, "By bringing this suit, the Justice Department has taken an important step toward ending the rampant racial profiling and illegal stops by the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office."

 

The Supreme Court is weighing the 2010 Arizona law known as SB 1070, the provision that allows police in Arizona to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. msnbc.msn.com

 

The lawsuit also charged that the criteria the unit uses to stop, search and arrest people - including detaining Hispanics who do not speak English and are not carrying papers proving their citizenship, and who appear to be nervous or have a strong smell of body odor - fell short of the probable cause required before police may stop and detain people. NY Times

 

Non-English speakers who are arrested and held in the county jail face further problems, the complaint said. Jail officials issue instructions only in English, and punish people who do not obey. NY Times

 

AN/SM

 

 

 

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