Feathered Bastard

DOJ Committed to Investigation of Joe Arpaio, According to Spokesman

Yesterday, I spoke with Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which is currently investigating civil rights violations by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies.

Though he would not confirm the fact that a team from the DOJ has been in town this week interviewing victims of racial profiling on the part of the sheriff's office, he vigorously defended the DOJ against claims by some pro-immigration activists that the DOJ is dragging its heels in doing anything about Arpaio's abuses.

Miyar described the DOJ probe of Arpaio as a "major effort" that is "still active, still ongoing." Asked when the DOJ investigators would submit a report on their findings or conclude the investigation, Miyar refused to speculate.

"We do not do our investigation in the press," said Miyar, who encouraged those with information concerning possible MCSO civil rights violations to call the DOJ's toll-free hotline dedicated to that subject at 877-613-2137. The recorded line offers options for English or Spanish.

As to reports that DOJ-ers have told the activists that all that would come of the investigation is a list of suggestions to Arpaio's office, Miyar countered that no such decision had been made regarding the possible outcome of the DOJ inquiry.

Indeed, federal code 42 U.S.C, 3789d, one of the laws cited in the original letter from the feds to Arpaio in March 2009 advising him of their probe of his office, describes a laborious process by which a local law enforcement agency could be brought into compliance with federal law. This would first require a finding from the DOJ that the MCSO, for example, engages in "a pattern or practice of discrimination." If the MCSO were to comply -- which seems unlikely given the fact that Arpaio has so far refused to cooperate with the DOJ -- it could enter into an agreement with the feds to abide by the terms and conditions laid out by the feds.

If the MCSO doesn't comply, any federal funds it receives could be suspended, and the Attorney General could sue the MCSO to force compliance. One section of the law states that,

"Whenever the Attorney General has reason to believe that a State government or unit of local government has engaged in or is engaging in a pattern or practice in violation of the provisions of this section, the Attorney General may bring a civil action in an appropriate United States district court. Such court may grant as relief any temporary restraining order, preliminary or permanent injunction, or other order, as necessary or appropriate to insure the full enjoyment of the rights described in this section, including the suspension, termination, or repayment of such funds made available under this chapter as the court may deem appropriate, or placing any further such funds in escrow pending the outcome of the litigation."

Miyar also wanted to set the record straight about the three DOJ investigators who crashed Arpaio's press conference during the Surprise sweep in October

"Our attorneys were not aware that they were not permitted at a public press conference," he explained.

Hey, I know the feeling. The only MCSO pressers I can get into are -- ironically -- ones off county property. Other than that, I'm forced to approach Arpaio at public events to lob questions at him. I know the DOJ-ers just wanted to observe. All the same, it may have been a good thing for them to experience firsthand the Third World-like repression of Mari-Kafka county.  

I queried Miyar on whether or not the DOJ has been working with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, as some sources are telling me. Miyar would only respond that the DOJ is "working with community partners." He would not say if the diocese is one of these.

Diocese spokesman Jim Dwyer told me he was unaware of any diocese-wide effort to help the DOJ, but stated that certain individuals or parishes could be doing so on their own without the knowledge of Bishop Thomas Olmsted's office. He stressed that the parishes are "their own civil and canonical entities," and that the diocese cooperates with law enforcement in general.

Bishop Olmsted has so far been mute about the terror and abuses experienced by some of his Latino congregants at the hands of the MCSO. Dwyer has always insisted that the bishop prefers to "work behind the scenes." Even if this is a hollow claim on the part of the bishop's office, other Phoenix Catholics are certainly walking the talk. Some activists say the DOJ has met with vicims of civil rights abuse at at least one Catholic church in town.

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