Bill Montgomery Rushes to Arpaio's Aid — Just As Disbarred Predecessor Andy Thomas Used to Do

When I heard Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery tell the federal government recently to "put up or shut up" in its wide-ranging allegations against Sheriff Joe Arpaio of racial profiling, systemic abuse of Latinos, and retaliation against Joe's critics, I was bewildered — for a second.

Montgomery's Clint Eastwood moment came in response to the U.S. Department of Justice's ongoing efforts to bring our recalcitrant sheriff to heel. This, months after Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez's December letter to Montgomery summarizing the results of the DOJ's massive four-year investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Perez's letter, which immediately was made public, told county residents what they should already know: Arpaio's boys in beige engage in widespread racial profiling, "unconstitutional policing," systemic violations of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, and mistreatment of Latinos in Joe's jails.

Perez even dipped into Arpaio's retaliation against his critics and noted the hundreds of botched sex-crimes cases in El Mirage.

He offered several specific examples from recent county history to back up his points, explaining the depth of the investigation, the more than 400 individuals interviewed, including prisoners and MCSO staff; the DOJ's inspection of jails, and the review of "tens of thousands of pages of documentary evidence."

The DOJ also commissioned a statistical study, Perez said, revealing that Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped by the Sheriff's Office. The DOJ found that one-fifth of all traffic incident reports generated by the sheriff's Human Smuggling Unit, "almost all of which involved Latino drivers," were Fourth Amendment violations.

After initially pitching a fit and then using the DOJ's letter to raise money for his re-election campaign, Arpaio seemed to cave to the reality of the situation. After a February meeting between the DOJ and the MCSO, a joint statement was released by the two sides. For the MCSO it read like an admission of guilt.

"The parties have agreed to work together to develop a document that addresses any agreed upon improvements needed in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," the statement read.

"The sheriff and the U.S. Department of Justice are both committed to avoiding unnecessary and expensive litigation," it continued, "by the creation of an enforceable agreement which will lead to sustainable reforms and positive results for all citizens of Maricopa County."

Did you catch that? "Improvements" that were "needed" and "agreed upon." The necessity of an "enforceable agreement" that will lead to "sustainable reforms."

We now know from an April 3 letter to Arpaio's lawyers from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin that in the February meeting, the need for an independent monitor was made clear and assented to by both sides.

There's no reason to doubt Austin on this. An independent monitor is standard practice in such cases, and Perez's December letter made clear the need for a "court enforceable agreement."

But like a cheap hood in a '50s TV show, Arpaio was lying his keister off to the feds. When time finally came for the two sides to sit down and start negotiating in earnest, Arpaio bucked, issuing a press release stating, "I will not surrender my office to the federal government," and calling the standard Arpaio press conference, where he blustered away.

In Austin's April letter to Joe's legal beagles, the DOJ lawyer coolly observes that Arpaio's nixing of the negotiations based on his new-found opposition to an independent monitor "calls into question whether you were ever interested in settling this matter."

To which, I would say, "No, duh." The current feud between the MCSO and the DOJ plays right into Arpaio's hands. It's part of the narrative he wants to sell to the public, one he's banking will get him re-elected: fierce county sheriff stands up to feds and does what they won't do — enforce immigration laws.

Racial profiling? Are you kidding? Arpaio's bigoted base believes in racial profiling. Just look at the American Civil Liberties Union's big civil rights lawsuit Melendres v. Arpaio, where a plethora of racist e-mails and letters from county constituents, unearthed through a torturous discovery process, praise Arpaio for racially profiling Latinos.

One letter writer frothed, "Stopping Mexicans to make sure they are legal is not racist."

Another fumed, "If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin! Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegal."

And one elderly bigot reminisced fondly about the days when her Italian mama was profiled during World War II because "it was the right thing to do."

What did Arpaio do with such racist filth? He kept it in his personal "immigration file," after he had sent thank-you notes to the writers, and in some cases, used the letters as pretexts for Latino-hunting sweeps.

The U.S. District Court judge in Melendres, G. Murray Snow, made official note of this cause-and-effect between some of the racist letters and Arpaio's sweeps and raids. He did this while sanctioning Arpaio's side in the lawsuit for not turning over Arpaio's immigration file and for destroying documents repeatedly requested by the plaintiffs.

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