U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow Sets Up Sheriff Arpaio for Knockout in Racial-Profiling Case; Ruling Describes Deputies' Dirty Tricks

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow set up Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for a knockout in his latest ruling on a racial-profiling lawsuit.

Snow's ruling (see below) in the Melendres Vs. Arpaio case eviscerates the Sheriff's Office for its record-shredding tactics, noting that deputies intentionally destroyed records that revealed their unethical enforcement operations. The ruling, made public today, comes a week after the Department of Justice revealed that a three-year investigation concluded Arpaio's shop routinely violated the rights of Valley Hispanics.

At a hearing in the lawsuit yesterday, Snow told Arpaio's attorney, Timothy Casey, that he believed a legal stance used by the Sheriff's Office to justify its human-smuggling-enforcement operations was "wrong." That could mean the end of another justification Arpaio's been using to bust illegal immigrants and generally hassle Hispanics.

The lawyers for Arpaio and for the plaintiffs (the latter represented by Covington & Burling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) agreed with Snow yesterday that the judge would be the "finder of fact" in the potential trial.

Now this "finder of fact" is saying that, at trial, he'll assume that Arpaio's office intentionally tried to screw the case because they know they're guilty of racial profiling.

The plaintiffs include Ortega Melendres, a legal resident picked up by deputies for no good reason and held for hours, U.S. citizens playing Spanish music chased and held at gunpoint by deputies, and a Hispanic man and his wife targeted at Bartlett Lake. Attorneys have asked Snow to certify the case as a class-action suit, which would open it up to countless victims of what a DOJ expert called the worst example of racial profiling in U.S. history.

Snow handed down sanctions against the Sheriff's Office last year for destroying records.

The thing we find hilarious about this part of the story: The dopey deputies thought they had shredded all the relevant documents, but their antagonists at county headquarters quietly preserved some of the data by funneling it to their own storage banks. Not everything was preserved, however.

Still missing are many "stat sheets" filled out by deputies that contain information about their work during saturation sweeps (a.k.a. immigrant round-ups).

Snow ruled that he'll infer the missing stat sheets show that deputies did not practice a "zero-tolerance" rule for stopping motorists during the sweeps. After all, he notes, some of the preserved stat sheets belie the idea that a zero-tolerance rule was in effect.

In other words, deputies ignored the traffic violations of a white motorist while others  pulled over Hispanics for the same violations. The arrest data on the destroyed stat sheets, Snow ruled, would show a difference in the type of people busted in the sweeps than in normal patrol operations.

Letters by local bigots apparently helped spur Arpaio and those under his command to launch the sweeps -- that much has already been shown. Snow will assume at trial that some e-mails deleted by the MCSO and recovered by the county would prove more of these despicable and prove direct links between outright racism and subsequent enforcement operations.

Intriguingly, at least two recovered e-mails refer to a separate file maintained by the MCSO of citizen complaints and requests for special operations. Snow will infer that such a file existed, and that some of the citizen complaints referred not to criminal activity, but merely to "Mexicans" or "illegal immigrants."

UPDATE: Another ruling by Snow today states that all Latinos pulled over by the Sheriff's Office since January 1, 2007 'til now, and into the future, can sue in a class-suit lawsuit. The ruling also enjoins the MCSO from conducting certain stops. Click here for the latest.

Order Re Adverse Inferences 12-23-11

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.
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.