Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office didn't just commit racial profiling of Latinos, according to the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation. Rather, Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history, a DOJ expert concluded.
Arpaio and his commanders created a "culture" of abusing the rights of Latinos in the county, assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez told reporters in a news conference today.
The findings were a vindication of allegations by critics and profiling victims, despite the lack of punitive measures taken against Arpaio for knowingly creating this "culture of bias."
Some of damning findings in a report put out by the department today (you can find the entire document below) include:
* A study commissioned by the Justice Department found that "Latino drivers are four-to-nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers."
* A fifth of all the immigration-sweep traffic stops violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures.
* Arpaio's anti-immigration squads responded repeatedly with enforcement patrols to complaints about people with "dark skin" or Spanish speakers.
* Jail guards punished Spanish-speaking inmates for failing to understand their commands in English, sometimes putting them in solitary confinement for that reason.
* Jail guards refused to accept grievance forms and "tank orders," which allow inmates to request basic daily services, that are written in Spanish.
* Guards pressured Latino inmates to sign voluntary deportation forms. (That allegation helped lead to today's announcement by Homeland Security that the 287(g)cross-training program was being taken out of the jails.
* Arpaio's office retaliated against its critics by subjecting them to "retaliatory detentions and arrests without cause, unfounded civil lawsuits, and other baseless complaints."
After the Justice Department informed Arpaio about the probe in March, 2009, the Sheriff's Office refused to cooperate. It took a lawsuit and court order to get Arpaio to budge.
Hundreds of people were interviewed, thousands of documents were reviewed, and the county's jails were inspected in the Justice Department probe. Investigators discovered a "widespread pattern or practice of law enforcement and jail activities that discriminate against Latinos." The "typical characteristic" of the sheriff's Human Smuggling Unit is one of prejudicial harassment "rather than the effective enforcement of immigration law," the DOJ report says.
Witness accounts of racial profiling were found to be consistent with the accusations against deputies. Two examples are given:
* A legal U.S. resident who allegedly failed to use his turn signal was made to sit on a curb for 15 minutes, then arrested and jailed for 13 days on a bogus charge that was dismissed in court.
* A legal U.S. resident and his U.S. citizen son invited deputies into their home during a raid on a suspect drop-house next door. The deputies proceeded to search the home without consent or a warrant, handcuffed the man and his son, then had them sit on the sidewalk next to the people being busted from the neighboring house. They were detained for an hour before being released without any citation.
The Justice Department says it gathered "many" similar examples. That's no surprise to close observers of the MCSO. We reported back in 2009, for instance, how one deputy enjoyed busting illegal immigrants for seat-belt violations that weren't really violations.
The way Arpaio and his deputies responded to bigoted complaints was another sign to the DOJ that racial discrimination was rampant in the office.
The Justice Department noted one time when Arpaio told his enforcement chief to check into a report that employees at a Sun City McDonald's were speaking Spanish. Another time, Arpaio thanked a racist letter-writer for his concern about illegal immigrants in Mesa. He
forwarded the letter to Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who "later testified that he assumed that the letter's author correlated undocumented persons with 'dark-complected' people."
A sweep of Mesa soon ensued.
The latter examples show clearly that Arpaio personally oversees and directs some of the discriminatory behavior. Previous probes into allegations of abuse of power and unethical behavior in his office have concluded that Arpaio is a micro-manager of high-profile MCSO probes -- those that get him headlines. Yet when pressed for accountability, Arpaio's m.o.is to cast blame elsewhere, claiming he's far removed from the details of his operations.
Arpaio had a news conference at 4 p.m. today on the Justice Department's findings. Read what happened there here.
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Feathered Bastard: Joe Arpaio Hammered by Politicians, Activists Praising DOJ Report
See our past coverage of the DOJ investigations of Arpaio.
Read the full DOJ letter on the Arpaio investigation.