Update (below): Department of Homeland Security cuts Arpaio off from key immigration database

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona have long engaged in the "unconstitutional policing" of Latino communities, the Department of Justice alleged Thursday in a scathing report released after two years of detailed investigation.

In a conference call with reporters, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said that the agency had conducted over 400 interviews in the course of their investigation, finding a long pattern of abuse, neglect and scorn for people of Mexican descent.

Arpaio, who calls himself one of America's toughest sheriffs, has a history of supporting anti-immigrant policies and political candidates. He's also been hounded by controversy in recent months, after his department was discovered to be abdicating its responsibility to investigate hundreds of sex crimes, many committed against Latinos.

The Justice Department said Arpaio had fostered a "chronic culture of disregard" and "bias" at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, noting that he had personally distributed racially charged hate speech in letters and emails.

They also claimed that the department had a history of targeting Latinos for traffic stops on roadways, and individuals who filed formal complaints were routinely retaliated against. Investigators additionally claimed they discovered a pattern of immigration sweeps based upon racially charged tips that did not describe any particular criminal activity.

They also found that roughly one-fifth of officers' traffic stop searches were likely conducted in violation of the subjects' constitutional rights. Similarly, in jails run by the department, Latino prisoners are often neglected and abused, the Justice Department said.

A separate criminal probe into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was also underway, federal officials added. If Arpaio does not agree by Jan. 4 to discuss with officials how he'll go about fixing the department's problems, he faces a lawsuit that could result in a federal takeover.

Arpaio's fifth term in office is up next year, and he's said that he plans to run for reelection.

Update: Department of Homeland Security cuts Arpaio off from key immigration database

Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa Sheriff's Office will no longer be able to check the immigration status of prisoners, the Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday, citing a Department of Justice investigation.

“Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust," DHS secretary Janet Napolitano said. "DHS will not be a party to such practices. Accordingly, and effective immediately, DHS is terminating MCSO’s 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office access to the Secure Communities program."

The "Secure Communities" program allows law enforcement to hold prisoners longer if they're determined to be in the country illegally.

Photo: Flickr user barb.howe.