Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, Asks Feds to Reinstate Immigrant Program in Jail; Skeptical of DOJ Claims Against Sheriff's Office

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery expressed skepticism today about the claims of racial profiling by the Sheriff's Office, and demanded the return of a jail program to identify illegal immigrants.

The feds announced yesterday they were canceling the 287(g) program in Maricopa County due to findings by the U.S. Department of Justice that Sheriff Joe Arpaio had created a "culture of bias" on his watch, leading to widespread profiling of Latinos by deputies. In the program, deputies trained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau run background checks on inmates using federal computers.

Montgomery said he didn't share the DOJ's belief that "systemic" racial profiling is occurring under Arpaio.

He acknowledged that he has "concerns" about the DOJ allegations. Yet there's no justification for taking away the 287(g) program even if the whole report is true, because serious criminals will end up being released from jail, Montgomery warned during a news conference this morning.

Though Arizona voters in 2006 approved Proposition 100, which denies bail to illegal immigrants arrested for major crimes, such immigrants may now be given release conditions and bond, he said.

"I'm asking the president to direct the Attorney General and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to reinstate this program now," he said.

Nothing in the Department of Justice's report indicates that information from the jail program was "either misused or accessed improperly," he added. Canceling the program "appears to be a spiteful action that amounts to overreaching and calls into question the real purpose and intent behind the investigation, as well."

Montgomery spent a decent amount of time trying to debunk the DOJ's report on the sheriff's office and speculating that political "games" could account for the timing of the release of that report.

Montgomery said he was suspicious of how the DOJ report was made public a week before a planned hearing in the Melendres case, a federal lawsuit against the county that deals with many of the same issues of racial profiling addressed in the report.

"I can assert no more than speculation on why that happened," he said.

The county attorney's office is co-counsel on the county side of the Melendres case, but Montgomery said he was speaking today only as a county attorney worried about the effects on law enforcement, and that his statements about the allegations against Arpaio's office weren't intended to help his side of the case.

The profiling problems, if they are true, must have occurred before he took office in late 2010, he surmised. He hasn't seen any sign that the prosecutions of sheriff's office cases his office has handled were spoiled by claims or evidence of constitutional violations.

He wants the Justice Department to get specific about which past or current MCSO cases in his office harbor the sort of violations outlined in the DOJ letter.

"If I don't have confidence in the cases ... I'm not going to prosecute them," he said.

Despite the occasional nod to his "concern," Montgomery repeatedly downplayed the findings in the report. The Republican declined to speculate on the politics motivating him and Arpaio.

Montgomery took an endorsement from Arpaio and benefited from ads the sheriff ran slamming Montgomery's opponent, Rick Romley. In May, Montgomery attended a fundraiser for himself with Arpaio hosted by Mark Goldman, a lawyer whose actions in the failed prosecution of County Supervisor Don Stapley became evidence in the State Bar disciplinary case of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

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