LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2012 (AFP) – An Arizona lawman known as the “toughest sheriff in America” hit back at US authorities Friday after he was sued for alleged discrimination against Latinos, saying: “I’m not a bully with a gun.”
The US Department of Justice launched legal action Thursday against Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of the southwestern state’s Maricopa County, alleging “unconstitutional and unlawful actions by the defendants.”
“They want to take over my office, for political reasons,” Arpaio told CNN, saying he had “compassion” for Latinos, but also had to enforce the law, which was more important.
“I’m not worried. I’m not gonna let the federal government run my office. I’m the elected constitutional sheriff, I report to the people, 4 million in this county.”
He added: “I keep elected because I do my job… I have compassion but enforcing the law overrides the compassion.”
US Justice Department officials claimed that Arpaio uses “discriminatory” action against Latinos who are “frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color or national origin.”
“At its core, 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 Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
In his response, Arpaio said US federal authorities had not given him details about the alleged racial profiling of Latinos, but that they would have to in court.
“They’re gonna have to show their evidence and we’ll be able to defend ourselves,” he said.
Arpaio dismissed critics who claim he is a bully, saying they wanted to force him out of office. “Personally, I don’t carry a gun even if I get a million threats, so I’m not a bully with a gun,” he said.
“I’m a professional. 50-year law enforcement officer. That’s my response to those critics that want to get rid of me and try to force me to resign,” he added.
The US Supreme Court has been asked to rule on a controversial 2010 Arizona immigration law, known as SB1070, which critics say encourages ethnic profiling.
The Arizona law has aroused intense controversy because of provisions that require police to stop and demand proof of citizenship of anyone suspected of being illegal, even without probable cause.
(image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Commons)