July 19, 2012

Ariz. sheriff faces profiling allegations at trial

Plaintiffs say Sheriff Joe Arpaio's officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics, and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status.

Jacques Billeaud / The Associated Press

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A defiant Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio pounds his fist on the podium as he answers questions regarding the Department of Justice announcing a federal civil lawsuit against him and his department, during a news conference in Phoenix on May 10, 2012.


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Illegal immigrants 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, which hasn't conducted any of the special patrols since October.

Arpaio has repeatedly said people who are pulled over in his patrols were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes and that it was only afterward that officers found that many of them were illegal immigrants.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has issued rulings against Arpaio earlier in the case. In December, he barred Arpaio's deputies who are enforcing Arizona's 2005 immigrant smuggling law from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they're in the country illegally. Arpaio has appealed that decision.

Without ruling on the ultimate question of whether Arpaio's deputies racially profile Latinos, the judge ruled in December that a reasonable trier of fact could interpret some of Arpaio's public statements as endorsing racial profiling.

As he considers the case, Snow said, he may assume that the records that Arpaio's office has acknowledged destroying in the case could have included documents such as citizen complaints, some of which could have been racially charged and didn't allege criminal activity.

Still, Snow reminded plaintiffs' attorneys what they need to prove to make their claim of systematic discrimination. At a hearing in March, the judge told them that in order to back up the racial profiling allegations, they must show that Arpaio's office had a policy that was intentionally discriminatory.

The judge said "even if I accept as true the premise that there was an illegal search or an illegal stop that was without probable cause, 10 or 11 stops by different officers over the course of three years doesn't do a lot towards establishing a policy and procedure."

The plaintiffs' attorneys say they plan to prove systematic discrimination, in part, by focusing on their allegation that Arpaio launched some patrols based on racially charged citizen complaints that alleged no actual crimes.

Separate from the two lawsuits that allege racial profiling, a federal grand jury has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009 and is specifically examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad.

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