Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Watch: U.S. Department of Justice Team in Phoenix, Activists Impatient with Investigators

According to several sources, a team of eight to nine U.S. Department of Justice investigators looking into civil rights violations by Sheriff Joe Arpaio was in Phoenix this week.

On Sunday, February 21, they met with around 15 anti-Arpaio activists, some of whom gave them a tongue-lashing for dragging their heels in the probe, which is approaching its one-year mark.

It was on March 10, 2009 that Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division advised Sheriff Arpaio that the MCSO was being investigated by the DOJ. Since then, teams of DOJ investigators have been frequent visitors to Phoenix, seeking information on the MCSO's racial-profiling ways.

So far, there's been no word of official findings from the DOJ, or of the possible actions they might take in regards to any violations they have encountered. At this Sunday's meeting, the possibility of Arpaio's department being placed under receivership was discussed, but shot down by the DOJers, according to those present.

The DOJ's investigation is separate from a probe of Arpaio's office done by the FBI, which likely resulted in the federal grand jury now ongoing in downtown Phoenix at the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse. The FBI and the grand jury are investigating possible criminal violations. The DOJ Civil Rights Division investigation is, as its name declares, civil.

One activist I spoke with believed the purpose of the visit was simply to thank the activists for their help in gathering data, assure them that the investigation was ongoing, and asking them to continue to direct those with complaints against the MCSO the DOJ's Arpaio hotline 877-613-2137.

"Basically I think they wanted to say, `We're on top of it, thanks for the help, keep it coming,'" said one attendee. 

Others at the meeting drew the conclusion that the investigation was stagnant.

"They're not moving on it," said Sal Reza of the Puente Movement. "They've had all this time, and they still haven't done anything."

Reza said he asked for a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The DOJ staff present said they'd get back to him. Reza insisted he would continue to push for a meeting with Holder throughout a human rights caravan Puente's sponsoring that will begin March 6 in Phoenix and end at the big pro-immigration rally in D.C. on March 21. 

(You can read a press release on Puente's caravan, here.)

DOJ spokesman Alejandro Miyar would only say that the investigation into Arpaio's office remains "very active." He would neither confirm nor deny any details or meetings mentioned above. 

Though Arpaio initially welcomed any probe of his office, he declined to cooperate with the DOJ after it began.

The DOJ investigators were here from Sunday to Wednesday. The meeting included representatives from Puente, Somos America, Arizona Advocacy Network, the ACLU, and activist organizations in Guadalupe. On the feds side, one of those present was Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin, Jr.   

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