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Joe Arpaio and MCSO Officially Sued by the Justice Department for Racial Discrimination

After a few rounds of threats, the Justice Department announced finally its lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio this morning.

The lawsuit addresses that "culture of bias" the Justice Department's been alleging since it released its findings in December, claiming that Arpaio's office conducts the worst racial-profiling practices it's seen.

The introduction of the lawsuit sums it up nicely:

"The [MCSO] and Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio have engaged and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos in Maricopa County and jail practices that unlawfully discriminate against Latino prisoners with limited English language skills," the lawsuit says.

"For example," the lawsuit continues, "Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and Latino prisoners with limited English language skills are denied important constitutional protections. In addition, Defendants MCSO and Arpaio pursue a pattern or practice of illegal retaliation against their perceived critics by subjecting them to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits, or meritless administrative actions."

For those who have perused the New Times file on Arpaio, this doesn't come as a surprise.

"Today, the Department of Justice did something it has done only once before in the 18-year history of our civil police reform work; we filed a contested lawsuit to stop discriminatory and unconstitutional law enforcement practices," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said at a press conference this morning. "In our police reform work, we have invariably been able to work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies to build better departments and safer communities. Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Arpaio have been a glaring exception. Attempts to forge solutions to address the serious civil rights and public safety concerns have proven elusive."

Perez said his office had "no choice" but to file the lawsuit, given MCSO and Arpaio's failure to negotiate with the Justice Department, specifically Arpaio's fear of having a federal monitor placed in his office.

 

Citing examples, the Justice Department lawsuit says MCSO jail staff "frequently" refer to Latinos with titles such as "wetbacks," "Mexican bitches," and "stupid Mexicans."

The e-mail circulated to MCSO immigration-enforcement supervisors with the picture of the Chihuahua in swimming garb captioned "A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal" doesn't help MCSO's cause, either.

The end game for the Justice Department, according to the lawsuit, is to remedy the MCSO's alleged violations of the law -- including violations of the Constitution, Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994, Justice Department regulations, and contractual violations -- "to ensure that MCSO implements sustainable reforms establishing police and jail practices that are constitutional."

Since the MCSO receives financial assistance from the DoJ, the Sheriff's Office has to play by its rules defined in its federal contract.

The focus of the lawsuit is from about 2006 to present, when Arpaio turned the MCSO into a "full-fledged anti-illegal immigration agency," according to the lawsuit.

This led to the discrimination of Latinos, the lawsuit says, from targeting Latinos, unlawfully detaining them, and unlawfully searching them, which includes Arpaio's infamous immigrant roundups at job sites.

Pulling over Latino drivers is an issue, too. In the northeastern portion of the county, the Justice Department says, "Latino drivers are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct."

The lawsuit goes on to claim that the MCSO's Human Smuggling Unit discriminates against Latinos in traffic stops, unlawful traffic stops are made during the immigrant roundups, unlawful traffic stops are just made in general against Latinos, and the unit even targets Latinos in their own homes.

The DoJ says the discrimination is rooted in the MCSO under Arpaio's watch, as the Sheriff's Office has "departed from standard law enforcement practices" that are supposed to protect people from discriminatory policing.

On the subject of that 17-page booklet Arpaio released yesterday detailing how his office ought to operate, Perez saw right through that one:

I would rather fix the problem than debate the existence of a problem. It was ironic that yesterday, the same day that the defendants received our letter informing them that a lawsuit was imminent, Sheriff Arpaio released a 17-page document entitled, "Integrity, Accountability, Community." We see these 17 pages as largely an admission of the problem. As our complaint states, MCSO's failure to ensure integrity and accountability has led to a crisis of confidence within the community. While it is noteworthy and perhaps heartening that a number of these changes appear to be taken from the 128 page proposed settlement agreement that we provided back in February, this too little, too late document cobbled together beyond the 11th hour, is no substitute for meaningful reform.

In the lawsuit, the DoJ wants to fix what's wrong in the MCSO, but it also states that it has the power to cut off the Sheriff's Office's federal funding because of the discrimination cited.

"It is time to forge comprehensive, sustainable solutions that include meaningful, independent oversight," Perez said. "Unfortunately, today's complaint, and the time-consuming path that will follow, is the only way forward."

The lawsuit can be found below:

Justice Department Lawsuit Arpaio MCSO



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