See also: Joe Arpaio's Racial Profiling Trial Begins, and, Yes, He's Guilty as Sin See also: Joe Arpaio Racial-Profiling Trial Draws Protestors' Calls for Justice on Opening Day See also: Joe Arpaio's Racial Profiling Case Costs County Close To $1 Million, So Far
In the law-enforcement experience of Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputy Louis DiPietro, most day laborers are undocumented, and usually are from Mexico or Central America.
That was the deputy's testimony in the American Civil Liberties Union's big Melendres v. Arpaio racial profiling case, which kicked off today at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse.
"From you're experience most day laborers are undocumented?" ACLU lawyer Andre Segura asked DiPietro.
The deputy simply answered, "Yes."
Seems pretty cut and dry, evidence of the prejudiced policing at issue in the trial. But not to Tom Liddy, a lawyer with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and part of the legal team defending Sheriff Joe in the five year-old case.
"He did not say that," insisted Liddy outside the federal courthouse after the day's proceedings. "He most certainly did not."
Spinning like dervish in a thunderstorm, Liddy offered an alternative interpretation of DiPietro's monosyllabic response.
"[DiPietro] said in his experience, obviously as a law enforcement officer, when he came in contact with day laborers in those operations...[they] were undocumented migrants," Liddy stated. "[But] he most certainly did not say that he had an assumption that all day-laborers are illegals."
DiPietro's racial assumptions are important. In September 2007, the MCSO's infamous Human Smuggling Unit was conducting an operation in Cave Creek near a church parking lot where day laborers were accustomed to gather looking for work.
Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a plaintiff in the case, was at the parking lot and needed a ride to Scottsdale, according to the complaint.
A friend arranged a ride with a white male in a pick-up truck.
The HSU observed Melendres, 53, get in the vehicle with three other men. Almost immediately, DiPietro was ordered by the unit to follow the truck and look for probable cause to stop it.
DiPietro testified that he followed the truck for about a mile and a half before stopping it for speeding.
However, he did not cite the white driver, but instead detained Melendres, who was promptly turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But it so happened that Melendres, a retired school teacher, was in the country legally on a tourist visa and was not a day laborer.
DiPietro testified at the time of the operation he had reasonable suspicion to believe that Melendres was involved in a possible human-smuggling case.
At the time of the stop, the deputy called HSU Deputy Carlos Rangel to help determine Melendres' immigration status. This resulted in about 8 hours of detainment for Melendres, a Mexican national who possessed a valid visa to be in this country.
Melendres was soon released by ICE officials.The white driver, however, was let go on DiPierto's discretion.
This 2007 incident is what prompted the original lawsuit, which over time has added four other plaintiffs, victims of alleged racial profiling.
In late 2011, Snow certified the complaint as a "class action" lawsuit, covering, "All Latino persons who, since January, 2007, have been or will be in the future, stopped, detained, questioned or searched by MCSO agents while driving or sitting in a vehicle on a public roadway or parking area in Maricopa County, Arizona."
The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages. Rather, they are seeking "injunctive relief," essentially an order from the court telling the MCSO to take steps to end the agency's racial-profiling ways. They also want a court-appointed monitor, to make sure the outlaw agency complies.
Another victim of racial profiling who also testified today was Victor Vasquez, a Mexican-American, who was pulled over during a crime-suppression sweep in June 2008 in Mesa.
As he was driving to a local restaurant with his wife he was stopped by an MCSO deputy on the pretext of a cracked windshield. As soon as he stopped the first question the deputy asked was if Vasquez spoke English.
"It was funny that he asked me that question," Vasquez testified today. "[Because] I felt like I was being singled out."
He was. As the ACLU has alleged, the MCSO has for several years now been making assumptions about people with brown skin, who may or may not speak English.
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On orders from Arpaio and his henchmen, MCSO deputies use traffic violations to stop Hispanics and ask them about their immigration status.
You know, like the way DiPietro used "speeding" to pull over a white guy in a truck and ask a brown passenger if he was in the country legally.
It just so happened that he was. Not that it made a difference to Arpaio's boys in beige.