Racial Profiling? Sheriff's Office Mistakes Man for Illegal Alien; $60,000 Sought for Extra Day in Slammer


Another day, another racial profiling allegation against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

This one comes in the form of a lawsuit filed last month with the county Superior Court:

Sheriff's deputies assumed a Hispanic man jailed for an unpaid traffic ticket was an illegal immigrant and drove him to an immigrant detention center, where he spent -- collective gasp -- an extra day behind bars.

A notice of claim for the alleged civil rights violation sent to the sheriff's office earlier this year demands a $60,000 settlement payment.

"It's the principle of the matter," says J. Scott Halverson, an attorney for Gauzin working on the case with attorney and Phoenix Democratic State Representative Ben Miranda. "(Gauzin) looks Hispanic and speaks Spanish -- they just assumed he was an illegal immigrant."

According to the lawsuit, the incident began on March 22, when Gauzin was picked up by Tempe police for a warrant out of Mesa City Court. Gauzin, who had failed to pay a fine for driving on a suspended license, ultimately spent eight days in the Maricopa County jail.

But sheriff's deputies, who had driven Gauzin from the downtown Phoenix jail to Mesa on March 31 for his final court appearance, wouldn't let the man go even after a judge ordered his release. Instead, the deputies took Gauzin back to jail. The next day, they drove him to a detention facility operated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.

ICE officials released the man on April 2 after figuring out he was a U.S. citizen, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says deputies "presumably" informed ICE officials that Gauzin was illegal immigrant, though it's unclear what deputies were thinking. The deputies apparently never asked Gauzin whether he was in the country legally or not, says Halverson.

That sure seems like racial profiling, (if you believe Gauzin), but Gauzin is asking for the moon and stars for his extra day in jail. And Gauzin doesn't appear to be a model citizen -- he was just arrested for something else a few days ago, court records show.

Still, deputies should have identified Gauzin as a citizen. That's what the federal 287(g) program in the jail is supposed to do -- separate the legals from the illegals. If deputies really did wrongfully peg Gauzin as an illegal immigrant, the mistake wasted law enforcement resources in addition to violating the man's rights.

That ought to be worth something.  



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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.