Bloody Encounter: A U.S. Citizen Says He Hit the Pavement Face-First after MCSO Deputies Racially Profiled Him and Jerked Him from His Truck

Editor's note: This is one of a group of individual accounts of racial profiling by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's forces.

When Leopoldo Arteaga asked a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy why he was pulled over last May, he was yanked out of his car and fell face down onto the pavement, bloodying his face, he says.

Arteaga says the deputies never read him his Miranda rights before he was taken to a hospital by the deputies for an injured nose and lip, after which he was taken to the Fourth Avenue Jail. He spent a night behind bars and was eventually charged with criminal speeding and failure to show identification.

Arteaga is 64 years old and a U.S. citizen. He plans a lawsuit against the MCSO, alleging racial profiling and excessive use of force.

The owner of a landscaping business has worked independently in Mesa for the past 25 years. He migrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1970s and became a citizen in 1986, thanks to the Reagan administration's amnesty program. A Mormon, he's been married to his wife, Guillermina, for the past 45 years. They have seven children, 30 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandkids.

Before he was stopped, he had become accustomed to seeing landscaping trucks in Mesa being pulled over by the MCSO. He says he wasn't surprised when deputies pulled over his.

Early in the afternoon of May 12, he says, he was driving on Apache Trail Road and 104th Street at about 45 miles per hour (the speed limit for the area) when he noticed a sheriff's car following him. The deputy pulled him over and asked for identification.

Arteaga asked, "Under which charges am I being detained?"

The officer asked for ID again.

As he reached for his wallet in his back pocket, he says, the officer tried to pull him out of his truck, but the seatbelt restrained Arteaga.

"I didn't expect a thing like that coming from him," Arteaga said, "and when I told him, 'Wait a minute and give me a chance to pull my wallet,' he replied: 'It's too late.'"

Another officer came over, unbuckled the seatbelt, and yanked Arteaga out of the car, he says. He lost his balance and fell to the pavement. His face hit the street face first, cutting his upper lip. They made him lie on the ground for at least 10 minutes, he says.

"They were hunting undocumented people," Arteaga says.

An undocumented day laborer traveling with him witnessed Arteaga getting jerked out of the car, but he didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation. The worker was handcuffed and taken into a deputy's vehicle. He showed his Mexican identification, or Matricula Consular card.

"I thought I was going straight to be deported," the worker said.

But apparently more interested in a brown-skinned citizen who talked back than an actual illegal immigrant, the deputies released the passenger after he had watched them manhandle Arteaga and peruse his proof of citizenship.

"I think, after what they did, they didn't want any more trouble," he says.

Arteaga pleaded not guilty to the charges, though an MCSO report claims he was driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit in an area where there were construction barricades and signs that showed the speed limit was reduced to 25 miles per hour.

The report claims Arteaga refused to present ID and did not get out of the vehicle when ordered. It also says he resisted arrest, which caused him to fall on the pavement. Use of force was justified, a deputy named Thompson wrote, because "numerous tools [were] in the vehicle that could be used as weapons."

The deputy said he felt threatened; in fact, he confiscated a loose chainsaw chain (Arteaga uses a chainsaw in his gardening business to cut tree limbs). That was the only "weapon" confiscated, according to the report.

Lieutenant Brian Lee, an MSCO spokesman, dismissed Arteaga's claims of racial profiling.

"It's funny how we're accused by Hispanics of that all the time," he added. "If you're speeding, you're speeding."

Says Arteaga, "If what happened to me isn't profiling, I don't know what is."

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Valeria Fernández