Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to have been stunned into silence by a federal court ruling intended to hamper his office's ability to conduct immigration enforcement operations.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled last week in a racial-profiling lawsuit against Arpaio and the Sheriff's Office that deputies can no longer stop people, as usual, to investigate suspected violations of the state's human-smuggling law. In court last week, MCSO lawyer Timothy Casey argued that such a prohibition could affect the agency's ability to do its job.
So far, Valley residents haven't seen the sort of bluster by Arpaio that immediately followed the December 15 Justice Department announcement about MCSO's racial profiling. After he was told by the feds that his agency has committed some of the worst racial discrimination by police in U.S. history, Arpaio responded with a news conference in which he stated repeatedly that he will "continue to do my job and enforce all the laws -- so I think ... you'll see that very soon."
This is a different situation. Judge Snow didn't just issue a caustic warning and threaten to sue the Sheriff's Office, like the DOJ did.
Snow's order in the Melendres lawsuit enjoins Arpaio's deputies from detaining any person based only on the belief that the person might be in the country illegally.
Arpaio had been justifying his roundups of illegal immigrants during his infamous crime sweeps by arguing that he was enforcing the state's human-smuggling law. At a hearing last week, Judge Snow and Casey argued over the method of that enforcement.
Typically, deputies have stopped someone based on a pretext violation, such as a broken headlight. Based on the suspicion that the motorists or passengers were in the country without papers, deputies could then "investigate" whether the state crime against human smuggling was violated. Snow says deputies can't do that any more.
Snow's ruling also opens up the lawsuit to any Hispanic who's been pulled over by the MCSO since 2007.
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We asked Arpaio's office this morning whether it was ready to comment on Snow's ruling.
"At this time we have not seen any official documents or paperwork, therefore we are currently unable to comment on the ruling," wrote Sergeant Jesse Spurgin in reply.
Apparently, the Sheriff's Office doesn't consider the ruling posted on the government's PACER federal court site "official."
Arpaio's people apparently need more time to tailor his response.