Joe Arpaio Lawyers: Discriminating Against Spanish-Speakers Doesn't Violate Civil Rights

Lawyers for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio responded to the Justice Department's lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the Sheriff's Office by, not surprisingly, asking that the suit be tossed.

You would expect that answering allegations of the worst racial-profiling tactics in the country's history would require an interesting response, and Arpaio's legal team delivered on that expectation.

Perhaps most interesting is that Arpaio's lawyers contend discrimination against people who speak a certain language isn't a civil-rights violation.

"Plaintiff cannot maintain these claims because Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] does not prohibit disparate treatment based on language proficiency," Arpaio's lawyers from the Phoenix-based Jones, Skelton & Hochuli law firm write.

Those attorneys note what the exact language of the Civil Rights Act says: "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

As you may recall, the lawsuit itself focuses on discriminatory policing against Latinos, and alleges that the practices at the jails discriminate against "Latino prisoners with limited English language skills."

The lawsuit adds, though, that the discrimination was against the "limited English proficient" Latinos, but on the basis of "race, color, or national origin" -- not because they didn't speak English too well.

Arpaio's lawyers note cases in which different treatment of people with limited English proficiency didn't equal discrimination -- African immigrant high school students who claimed they were "provided fewer educational and extracurricular opportunities," and Hispanic prisoners in Washington D.C. who sued because they didn't get religious and educational programs in Spanish.

The lawsuit against MCSO is a little different.

The Justice Department alleges 21 instances in which the MCSO's handling of the language barrier violates laws, not just from the Civil Rights Act.

For example, from the lawsuit:

  • In some instances, female Latino [limited English proficient] prisoners have been forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation because of MCSO's failure to ensure that detention officers provide language assistance in such circumstances.
  • In some instances, when a Latino LEP prisoner has been unable to understand commands given in English, MCSO detention officers have put an entire area of the jail in lockdown--effectively preventing all the prisoners in that area from accessing a number of privileges because of the Latino LEP prisoner's inability to understand English...
  • In other instances, MCSO detention officers have put Latino LEP prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods of time because of their inability to understand and thus follow a command given in English.
  • For example, MCSO detention officers have pressured Latino LEP prisoners to sign "voluntary return" forms without proper language assistance. Once signed, these forms oblige foreign nationals to give up any right to have an immigration hearing, challenge their removal from the United States, speak with an attorney, or otherwise seek a determination permitting them to stay in the United States. Latino LEP prisoners have been compelled by MCSO detention officers to sign this form even when they have pending proceedings that may authorize their continued stay in the United States.

Meanwhile, the other hundred-plus allegations against Arpaio and MCSO don't have to do with English proficiency, and neither do the five other sections for response put together by Arpaio's team of lawyers.

Still, it somewhat answers the question of how can you possibility defend yourself against this?

You can read the entire response below, which includes a Rodney King reference:

Arpaio Response

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley