July 24, 2012

Ariz. sheriff backtracks on praise for KKK

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been accused of being prejudiced, said he no longer considers comparisons to the Ku Klux Klan "an honor."

The Associated Press

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio

AP

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The plaintiffs say deputies conducting Arpaio's sweeps pulled over Hispanics without probable cause, making the stops only to inquire about the immigration status of the people in the vehicles.

The sheriff maintains that people are stopped only if authorities have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of the people stopped are illegal immigrants.

Plaintiff's lawyers say Arpaio endorsed calls for racial profiling with the sweeps by passing along the ambiguous and racially charged complaint letters to aides who planned his immigration enforcement efforts and carried out at least three patrols after receiving the letters.

They also point out that Arpaio wrote thank-you notes to some who sent complaints.

Arpaio's attorneys denied that the letters and emails prompted the sheriff to launch the patrols with a discriminatory motive. His lawyers called the complaints racially insensitive and said aides to the sheriff — not Arpaio himself — decided where to conduct the patrols. They also said there was nothing wrong with the thank-you notes.

"He sends thank-you letters because he is an elected official," Tim Casey, the lawyer leading Arpaio's defense, said during opening arguments.

In an August 2008 letter, a woman wrote about a Sun City restaurant: "From the staff at the register to the staff back in the kitchen area, all I heard was Spanish — except when they haltingly spoke to a customer." The letter ended with a suggestion that the sheriff investigate.

Arpaio made a handwritten note in the margins saying, "letter thank you for info will look into it" and that the complaint should be sent to aide Brian Sands, who selects locations for sweeps, with a notation saying "for our operation." The sheriff's office launched a sweep two weeks later in Sun City.

Earlier in 2008, the sheriff received a letter from a man who complained that police in nearby Mesa hadn't approached day laborers to find out whether they were in the country legally. Plaintiff's lawyers say Arpaio made a notation in the margins about a thank-you note and marked it to draw Sands' attention.

Plaintiff's lawyers said Arpaio got another 2008 letter urging a sweep in Mesa and noting that the leader of the city's police union was Hispanic.

The lawyers said the sheriff wrote "I will be going into Mesa" and sent a copy of the complaint to Sands. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff's office launched a sweep in Mesa and noted in a news release that the sheriff was sending deputies to Mesa "in keeping with his promise to the public," the lawyers said.

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