FILE – This Jan. 9, 2013 file photo shows Maricopa County
Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking with the media in Phoenix. A federal
judge ruled Friday, May 24, 2013, Arpaio’s office systematically
singled out Hispanics in its trademark immigration patrols, marking
the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles
people. Credit: AP
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the office of
America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled
out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first
finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs
up years of allegations from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s
critics who say his officers violate the constitutional rights of
Latinos in relying on race in their immigration enforcement.
Snow, whose ruling Friday came more than eight months after a
seven-day, non-jury trial, also ruled Arpaio’s deputies
unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled
The ruling marks a thorough repudiation of the immigration
patrols that made Arpaio a national political figure, and it
represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit.
“For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he’s
meant to serve with his discriminatory policy,” said Cecillia D.
Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Right Project. “Today we’re
seeing justice for everyone in the county.”
Monetary damages weren’t sought in the lawsuit but rather a
declaration that Arpaio’s office engages in racial profiling and an
order that requires it to make policy changes.
Stanley Young, the lead lawyer who argued the case against
Arpaio, said Snow set a hearing for June 14 where he will hear from
the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are
The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, won’t
face jail time as a result of Friday’s ruling.
Tim Casey, Arapio’s lead attorney in the case, said an appeal
was planned in the next 30 days.
“In the meantime, we will meet with the court and comply with
the letter and spirit of the order,” he said.
A small group of Latinos alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio’s
deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status
checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the
sheriff’s office from discriminatory policing and the judge ruled
that more remedies could be ordered in the future.
The group also accused the sheriff of ordering some immigration
patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters and
emails from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin
congregating in an area or speaking Spanish. The group’s attorneys
noted Arpaio sent thank-you notes to some who wrote the
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio hold up a loaf of bread as he
describes how the threat of a “bread and water diet,” keeps inmates
at the Estrella Jail in line during a news conference Thursday, May
16, 2013, in Phoenix. Convicted killer Jodi Arias is housed in this
jail, but according to Arpaio, has not been disciplined to get the
bread and water diet. Credit: AP
The sheriff said his deputies only stop people when they think a
crime has been committed and that he wasn’t the person who picked
the location of the patrols. His lawyers said there was nothing
wrong with the thank-you notes.
Young, the group’s lawyer, said he was still reading the
decision Friday but noted it contained “very detailed findings of
discriminatory intent and effect.”
Casey said that MCSO’s position “is that it has never used race
and will never use race in its law-enforcement decisions.” He added
the sheriff’s office relied on “bad training” from the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A call to ICE officials in Phoenix for comment wasn’t
immediately returned Friday evening.
Arpaio, who turns 81 next month, was elected in November to his
sixth consecutive term as sheriff in Arizona’s most populous
Known for jailing inmates in tents and making prisoners wear
pink underwear, Arpaio started doing immigration enforcement in
2006 amid Arizona voter frustration with the state’s role as the
nation’s busiest illegal entryway.
Snow wrote that “in the absence of further facts that would give
rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a violation of
either federal criminal law or applicable state law is occurring,”
Arpaio’s office now is enjoined from enforcing its policy “on
checking the immigration status of people detained without state
charges, using Hispanic ancestry or race as any factor in making
law enforcement decisions pertaining to whether a person is
authorized to be in the country, and unconstitutionally lengthening
Snow added “the evidence introduced at trial establishes that,
in the past, the MCSO has aggressively protected its right to
engage in immigration and immigration-related enforcement
operations even when it had no accurate legal basis for doing
The trial that ended Aug. 2 focused on Latinos who were stopped
during both routine traffic patrols and special immigration patrols
known as “sweeps.”
During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city – in some
cases, heavily Latino areas – over several days to seek out traffic
violators and arrest other offenders. Immigrants who were in the
country illegally accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people
arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January
2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio’s office.
At trial, plaintiffs’ lawyers drew testimony from witnesses who
broke down in tears as they described encounters with authorities,
saying they were pulled over because they were Hispanic and
officers wanted to check their immigration status, not because they
had committed an infraction. The sheriff’s attorneys disputed such
characterizations, typically working to show that officers had
probable cause to stop the drivers based on a traffic
Plaintiffs’ lawyers also presented statistics to show Latinos
are more likely to be stopped on days of immigration patrols and
showed emails containing offensive jokes about people of Mexican
heritage that were circulated among sheriff’s department employees,
including a supervisor in Arpaio’s immigrant smuggling squad.
Defense lawyers disputed the statistical findings and said
officers who circulated offensive jokes were disciplined. They also
denied the complaint letters prompted patrols with a discriminatory
The ruling used Arpaio’s own words in interviews, news
conferences and press releases against him as he trumpeted his
efforts in cracking down on immigrants. When it came to making
traffic stops, Arpaio said in 2007 that deputies are not bound by
state laws in finding a reason to stop immigrants.
“Ours is an operation, whether it’s the state law or the
federal, to go after illegals, not the crime first, that they
happen to be illegals,” the ruling quoted Arpaio as saying. “My
program, my philosophy is a pure program. You go after illegals.
I’m not afraid to say that. And you go after them and you lock them
Some immigrant traffic stops were made “purely on the
observation of the undercover officers that the vehicles had picked
up Hispanic day laborers from sites where Latino day laborers were
known to gather,” the ruling said.
The judge also said the sheriff’s office declared on many
occasions that racial profiling is strictly prohibited and not
tolerated, while witnesses said it was appropriate to consider race
as a factor in rounding up immigrants.
“This is a blow to” the sheriff’s office, said David A. Harris,
a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studied racial
profiling and wrote a book on the subject.
Arpaio’s lawyers will have “an uphill climb” in the appeals
process because of all “the gross statistical evidence,” he
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