Earlier today, the Department of Justice filed suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff’s Office alleging a pattern and practice of discriminatory behavior against Latinos. According to the complaint, officers under Arpaio’s command targeted Latino drivers during traffic stops and neighborhood sweeps, and used ethnic slurs against Latino inmates with limited English proficiency in county jails. The suit, which was filed in federal court in Arizona, comes five months after the Department’s Civil Rights Division issued a report based on an extensive investigation that contained similar findings.

The federal investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) was initiated to explore violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids recipients of federal funds from engaging in racial or ethnic discrimination. The investigation had already resulted in a previous lawsuit based on Sheriff Arpaio’s refusal to provide Justice Department investigators access to internal files. After the prior suit was settled and records were disclosed, the Obama administration released a report last December 2011 detailing the finding of its investigation. Once pre-trial negotiations broke down, the Justice Department filed a 32-page complaint containing extensive allegations of misconduct by MSCO deputies and Sheriff Arpaio himself. Selected excerpts from the complaint include:

  • “MCSO supervisors involved in immigration enforcement have expressed anti-Latino bias, in one instance widely distributing an email that included a photograph of a Chihuahua dog dressed in swimming gear with the caption ‘A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal.’” (p.2)
  • “[D]uring a crime suppression operation, two MCSO officers followed a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, for a quarter of a mile to her home. The officers did not turn on their emergency lights, but insisted that the woman remain in her car when she attempted to exit the car and enter her home. The officers’ stated reasons for approaching the woman was a non-functioning license plate light. When the woman attempted to enter her home, the officers used force to take her to the ground, kneed her in the back, and handcuffed her. The woman was then taken to an MCSO substation, cited for ‘disorderly conduct,’ and returned home. The disorderly conduct citation was subsequently dismissed.” (p.11)
  • “In another raid, a U.S.-born Latina was taken into custody for four hours to determine whether she was lawfully in the United States. In response to media inquiries about this incident, Arpaio was quoted as saying: ‘That’s just normal police work.’” (p.13)
  • “Arpaio received a letter stating ‘[i]f you have dark skin, then you have dark skin. Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegals who are here illegally. . . I’m begging you to come over . . . and round them all up.’ Arpaio labeled the letter as ‘intelligence,’ forwarded it to his Deputy Chief of Enforcement Operations and told the Deputy Chief to ‘[h]ave someone handle this.’” (p.19)
  • “Arpaio maintains an ‘immigration file,’ in which he keeps letters that advocate blatant bias against Latinos.” (p.19)
  • “MCSO personnel responsible for prisoners held in MCSO jails routinely direct racial slurs toward Latino prisoners, including calling Latino prisoners ‘paisas,’ ‘wetbacks,’ ‘Mexican bitches,’ ‘fucking Mexicans,’ and ‘stupid Mexicans.’” (p.19)
  • “MCSO’s Chief of Enforcement acknowledged that the majority of undocumented persons in Maricopa County are Latino and described undocumented persons as ‘the lowest element in our society.’” (p.20)

FILED UNDER: , , , , ,