Arpaio's Letter Shows Why Judge Snow Must Appoint a Monitor in Melendres

Would you hop into an elevator with Hannibal Lecter? Trust Julian Assange with your most intimate secrets? Allow Jared Loughner access to a gun range?

Then, why would anyone ever let Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio give lip service to complying with federal Judge G. Murray Snow in the ACLU's big civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio, without an independent monitor being appointed?

Keep in mind that Arpaio has fought the lawsuit tooth-and-nail for six long years, during which his office has engaged in egregious, prejudiced policing toward Latinos.

The MCSO was caught destroying evidence in the case — records of stops made during the sweeps, which the plaintiffs had repeatedly demanded from Arpaio's chief pettifogger, Tim Casey.

As a result, Arpaio was sanctioned, and Snow essentially was allowed to presume that the documents Arpaio's deputies shredded would have helped the plaintiffs' case.

Safe bet, that. During the bench trial in July and August of last year, the plaintiffs' expert witness, Professor Ralph Taylor of Temple University, reported his findings from an exhaustive study of MCSO traffic stops.

Latinos were up to 39.5 percent more likely to be stopped during one of Arpaio's notorious Hispanic-hunting sweeps compared with dates one year earlier. The stops themselves lasted longer, too: On average up to two minutes, or 22 percent, longer.

The trial also included evidence of outright bigotry: offensive e-mails between deputies trading in anti-Hispanic ethnic humor, an immigration file filled with letters from outright racists complaining of too many Spanish speakers in one place, and proof that Arpaio's sweeps sometimes were suggested or petitioned for by like-minded bigots.

When Snow ruled in May of this year, he found the MCSO guilty of racial profiling and declared the agency in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure, the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The judge also concluded that the MCSO had violated the court's previous injunction, which forbade MCSO deputies from detaining people based on the belief that they were in the country illegally.

"Because," Snow wrote in his order of December 2011, "as a matter of law, such knowledge does not amount to a reasonable belief that the person either violated or conspired to violate the Arizona human smuggling statute or any other state or federal criminal law."

But a federal judge's order means little to Arpaio and his gang, and Snow acknowledged the devil he was dealing with in his May ruling.

"The evidence introduced at trial," he wrote, "establishes that, in the past, the MCSO has aggressively protected its right to engage in immigration and immigration-related enforcement operations even when it had no accurate legal basis for doing so."

Indeed, when Arpaio lost his grant of 287(g) street authority allowing around 100 of his officers to act as immigration cops under the aegis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he turned to his now-former Deputy Chief Brian Sands for legal justification to continue the sweeps.

Never that clever to begin with, Sands turned to another mental midget for help, MCSO Sergeant Brett "Shut Up" Palmer, notorious for once telling elected officials critical of the sheriff's racial-profiling ways to "shut up" during a public demonstration by MCSO deputies.

Palmer discovered the justification Arpaio needed on a nativist website, which told him there was a federal statute giving cops authority to enforce civil immigration law.

The statute was nonexistent, but Sands gave the justification to Arpaio, and Arpaio publicly used this to declare that "nothing will change," despite getting stripped of his 287(g) authority.

Fast-forward to June's hearing before Snow, where Arpaio's legal Lhasa Apso, Casey, declared, "The MCSO is out of the federal immigration enforcement business."

It took about a month from that hearing for Arpaio to get back to what he does best: arresting dishwashers, busboys, and cleaning ladies, under the guise of enforcing state ID theft and forgery statutes, with raids on a restaurant chain and on a local office-cleaning company.

Granted, the loophole is there for Arpaio to exploit. Melendres deals with Latino motorists, and Judge Snow has made clear that he has not enjoined Arpaio from enforcing state laws.

But the sweeps and the raids always have been two sides of the same nickel in Joe's pocket. Arpaio began the raids and the sweeps to capitalize politically on Arizona's anti-immigrant feeding frenzy.

In either enforcement action, rounding up brown people is the endgame. Which is why Arpaio never has been that interested in cuffing Anglo employers for accepting the false documents of their undocumented employees.

It's tough to exaggerate Arpaio's mendacity. For instance, as both sides in Melendres were negotiating over what they could agree to in a future order of the court, detailing what the MCSO must do to comply with Snow's injunctions, Arpaio's never-ending re-election campaign sent out a fundraising appeal, using Melendres as fodder to ask Joe's followers for more dough.

The letter, dated August 6, is signed by Arpaio and probably was authored by Joe's campaign czar, Chad Willems. Naturally, it's all about illegal immigration and how Arpaio will not stop fighting it.

Joe kvetches: "A federal judge recently ruled my office engaged in 'racial profiling,'" as the result of a lawsuit "filed by open-borders activists led by the ultra-liberal ACLU."

Arpaio states in the letter that he disagrees with Snow's ruling, but he will "abide by the decision until it is reversed by a higher court."

But that's merely an aside, allowing Arpaio some wiggle room if he's called on the remainder of the letter, in which he's defiant.

"Ultimately, they want to have a 'federal monitor' in my office looking over my shoulder, making everything I do politically correct," Arpaio snarls at one point. "I was elected by the people, and I won't stand for it."

Well, if Snow appoints a monitor for the MCSO to be the judge's eyes and ears in the case, as he's already said he's inclined to do, Arpaio certainly will stand for it. He doesn't have much choice. He lost, remember?

"I will never back down — not even one inch — when it comes to doing the job I was elected to do," Arpaio says at another point in the letter.

Arpaio's slippery language aside, does this sound like a guy who will voluntarily comply with Snow's orders without being forced to?

Perhaps, as he did with own co-authored Joe's Law, the sheriff will deny ever having read the letter. No doubt Willems handles such matters for him, just as Arpaio conveniently delegates authority to his flunkies, so he retains deniability.

I can only hope Snow is as impatient with Arpaio's excuses and games as a lot of us are.

Both Casey and Arpaio's friends in the media are squirming, arguing that because Arpaio is an elected official, Snow cannot or should not appoint a monitor.

But elected officials have to accept monitors in civil rights cases all the time, and these officials often bitch and moan about it, whether it's Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York, apoplectic over a judge reining in the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, or Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, outraged at the more than $8 million a court-appointed monitor for his city's police department will cost.

Like it or not, elected officials must obey the U.S. Constitution, from the president on down.

And if a majority of locals agrees with an elected official's unconstitutional practice, that's not a free pass. Rather it's an indicator that the electorate needs a remedial class in civics — which Snow should give Maricopa County very soon.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons