Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Office Cooperating (Finally) With Justice Department in Civil-Rights Probe

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio finally is cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department in its civil-rights probe, thanks to an "unprecedented" lawsuit filed against the county.

This isn't the abuse-of-power investigation by the feds, which we keep hearing will result in several indictments. (We've heard such rumors for months -- now we hear the next shoe will drop sometime next month.) The civil-rights probe, ongoing for the past two years, is a separate investigation into whether Arpaio's office discriminates against Hispanics.

In September, the Justice Department announced it was suing Maricopa County over Arpaio's refusal to cough up documents and let federal officials inspect county jails. Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general in the civil-rights division of Justice, told reporters it was the first time in 30 years that the government's had to sue a law enforcement agency to obtain compliance with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Arpaio's office initially ignored the bulk of 51 requests for documents, as well as ignored repeated requests for visits to the jails. County officials said Arpaio's non-compliance put tens of millions of dollars in federal funds at risk.

New court records filed this month, however, state that "substantial progress" has been made in squeezing compliance out of the sheriff.

"Specifically," court records state, "facility inspections have occurred, inmates and staff have been interviewed, additional interviews have been tendered and rather massive amounts of documents are in the process of being produced by MCSO."

The county, represented by the Polsinelli Shughart law firm, "commends" the Justice Department and MCSO "for the progress and professionalism recently demonstrated." The December 10 pleading by county officials asks U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow to rule that Maricopa County is complying with the government, and therefore shouldn't have any funds taken away.

Lawyer Thomas Irvine, in the pleading, writes that the original September complaint by the Justice Department might need to be amended to take the new cooperation into account. If any further problems with obtaining records or help from Arpaio's office come up, a federal magistrate could be appointed to resolve disputes "in order to stop the expensive litigation," Irvine writes.

We have no idea whether that "massive" amount of documents show evidence of civil-rights abuses. Certainly, there's no telling how many documents Arpaio's people have run through the shredder by now.

But it does seem like some of Arpaio's bluster is gone. A few months ago, he contended that this lawsuit was a planned obstacle by the Obama adminstration to force him to stop enforcement against illegal immigrants. Now he's coming across as the federal government's obedient pet, fetching documents for the folks he claims are conspiring against him. At least on this issue. 

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