Justice Department sues Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio for ‘targeting Latinos’

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 10, 2012 15:19 EDT
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U.S. Asst Attorney Gen. Thomas Perez in AZ via screen grab
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The U.S. Department of Justice held a press conference this afternoon to announce its lawsuit against controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for engaging “in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos in Maricopa County,” according to “Talking Points Memo.”

Arpaio and his office, says the complaint, which is embedded below, have targeted Latinos in an unconstitutional and unlawful way, in traffic stops and crime investigations. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department allegedly unlawfully detained Latino drivers and passengers, conducted illegal searches and illegally targeted Latino workers in workplace raids.

The suit, filed in the District Court of Arizona alleges that jail officials under Arpaio called Latinos “wetbacks,” “stupid Mexicans” and “Mexican bitches.” It maintains that the man Arizonans fondly call “Sheriff Joe” exhibited “a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct,” singling out “Mexicans and Latinos as different from all other immigrant groups in America” and then fighting the federal government’s attempts to investigate his department.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez traveled to Arizona to announce the lawsuit, which is the culmination of a three-year investigation. The Justice Department announced in December that it had found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in violation of civil rights law and was attempting to negotiate with Arpaio to settle the suit. Those negotiations collapsed in April of this year when Arpaio refused to comply with the Department’s requests, stalling the investigation and throwing a series of obstacles into its the path.

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.”

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.”

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

Perez declined to address criminal charges against the sheriff.

The ACLU responded to news of the Justice Department’s suit with a statement from Cecillia Wang, director of the organization’s 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 Sheriff’s Office.”

Wang said that the Justice Department’s complaint would add weight to the suit her office filed against the MCSD in 2009, the trial for which is scheduled for July 19.

Watch this video from the press conference, broadcast on CNN May 10, 2012:


You can read the full complaint, embedded below via Scribd:


David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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