A stinging indictment of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the MCSO. That's how the lawsuit filed yesterday by the Arizona ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, (MALDEF) and the Phoenix law firm Steptoe and Johnson, against Joe, the MCSO and Maricopa County reads. Brought on behalf of five individuals whose civil rights were trampled by the MCSO because they are Latino, the class action complaint includes as plaintiffs the immigrant rights organization Somos America and "all others similarly situated." In other words, all Latinos targeted by the MCSO because their skin is brown.
The suit blasts Arpaio's goons, charging that they've violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Arizona Constitution, and ICE's Memorandum of Agreement with the MCSO, under which Arpaio has federal authority to enforce immigration law with 160 specially trained deputies. Obviously, Arpaio has made few bones about the fact that his "crime suppression sweeps" are in reality all about rounding up undocumented brown people, while denying accusations that he's racially profiling. Now he will have to face a team of high-powered constitutional legal beagles and justify his unconstitutional activities before a federal judge.
Though the complaint seeks "declaratory and injunctive relief," eschewing financial reward, and though it could be a year or more, according to ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda, before the suit nears trial or the court takes some action, the psychological impact is tremendous as the lawsuit's legal shepherds gather information under the discovery part of the case.
"In the discovery phase, [the MCSO] has to turn over information," explained Pochoda. "Hopefully, well be getting deep into records that have never been looked at before... Then there will be testimony taken under oath, pretrial depositions, asking questions under discovery, and possibly a trial."
The suit will likely influence the way Joe does business. Though it's unlikely to halt the sweeps, unless some sort of preliminary injunction is granted by the court, the MCSO will have to proceed in the knowledge that every move made from here on out may become part of the lawsuit against the agency.
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"There is an impact on behavior, just by the fact of filing, the access to records and documents, and the fact that people will be required to testify under oath at the pretrial stage," said Pochoda. "[Any change] will be because they're playing defensive ball, not because they've seen the light. They have to take it into account. It's clear that it's a very serious piece of litigation, with experienced litigants involved. And not just frivolous allegations, whether they want to characterize them as such or not."
Indeed, the specific cases cited in the document are damning, and follow a familiar, sinister pattern. A Mexican national in the country legally and with the papers to prove it is arrested and held for nine hours, before finally being released. Hispanic Americans are stopped and subjected to the sort of interrogation and humiliating treatment that their Anglo counterparts escape. In perhaps the most egregious example, a Hispanic American man is arrested and handcuffed in front of his family's auto repair shop, all because his sister was singing along to some Spanish music. A swarm of vindictive Sheriff's deputies surrounded the man with their weapons drawn, even though he's done absolutely nothing wrong. Ultimately, he's released without being cited.
No doubt nativists will read this document (you can peruse the lawsuit and all pertinent docs, here), and shrug at the allegations therein. Certainly, they see nothing wrong with treating Hispanic Americans in this manner, because for such bigoted individuals, all Hispanics are suspected of being in the country illegally. But even those present in the U.S. without the proper paperwork have the right to due process, and American citizens have the right to much more, no matter what their ethnicity or skin color.
This lawsuit also shows the danger in stigmatizing an entire class of individuals as criminals, contrary to facts, and branding them as undesirables deserving of such treatment. Think of it as the domino theory of civil rights, whereby the trampling of others' rights ultimately leads to the lessening of those same rights for us all. Hopefully, this complaint will assist in the turning of the tide against Arpaio. It's a process that's well under way, and being assisted unwittingly by Arpaio himself with every insane statement, every swipe at his enemies, and every anti-brown dragnet his departrment instigates.