The U.S. Department of Justice says Sheriff Joe Arpaio violated Constitutional and federal laws by tolerating and encouraging organized discrimination of Latinos.
The controversial Arizona lawman Sheriff Joe Arpaio may need to spend less time making media appearances , answering fan mail, and tweeting about President Barak Obama’s birth certificate and more time reforming his law enforcement operation.
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that it has reasonable cause to believe that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office, under Arpaio, “engaged in a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law .” The finding was a result of a three-year investigation that found that Arpaio encouraged biased policing that targeted Latinos living in Maricopa County.
The DOJ says MCSO engaged in discriminatory policing practices including unlawful detentions and arrests, retaliation against critics of police policies, and denying Latino inmates critical services. The DOJ also found the MCSO engaged in use of excessive force and failed to investigate allegations of sexual assault among a number of other things, “significantly compromising MCSO’s ability to adequately protect Latino residents.”
“MCSO’s systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections has created a wall of distrust between the sheriff’s office and large segments of the community, which dramatically compromises the ability to protect and serve the people,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division in a press release.
After MCSO shifted its focus from violent crime to illegal immigration, from 2004 to 2007 the number of violent crimes increased 69 percent. Homicides increased 166 percent. Since 2008 the number of violent crimes in Maricopa County has stayed the same while the number in surrounding jurisdictions dropped by more than 10 percent.
The official report, released by the DOJ on Thursday, presents the DOJ’s evidence against Arpaio and MCSO.
An example cited in the report tells about a letter Arpaio received in August of 2008. A Maricopa County resident wrote to complain that the employees of a local McDonald's didn’t speak English and suggested Arpaio should "check this out." The letter didn’t say anything about illegal activities. Arpaio wrote a letter back thanking the resident and promising that he would look into it. He forwarded the letter to MCSO enforcement chief Brian Sands. Two weeks later, MCSO conducted an immigration operation in the city.
UPDATE: Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano released a statement Thursday afternoon announcing the termination the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's 287(g) jail model agreement, which allows local enforcement of immigration laws, effective immidiately. DHS has also restricted the MCSO's access to the Secure Communities program.
"The Department of Homeland Security is troubled by the Department of Justice’s findings of discriminatory policing practices within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office...DHS will not be a party to such practices," Napolitano said.
Over the course of the investigation the DOJ interviewed more than 400 people, including 75 current or former MSCO staff and 150 former and current inmates.
The report also tells of racist e-mails that were circulated through the office, racial slurs directed at Latino inmates, and the illegal arrest of an immigration rights organizer that Arpaio smugly approved of on a social networking profile. The Maricopa County attorney later dropped the charges against the organizer admitting that there was no probable cause for the arrest.
“The problems are deeply rooted in MCSO’s culture, and are compounded by MCSO’s penchant for retaliation against individuals who speak out,” Perez said.
The DOJ says effective resolution will require MCSO to develop a written agreement along with federal judicial oversight.
“We prefer to resolve this matter without resort to further litigation, although we will not hesitate to file suit, if necessary….If MCSO is not interested or if we deem that MCSO is not engaged in good-faith efforts to achieve compliance by voluntary means, we are prepared to file a civil action to compel compliance,” the report says.
MSCO has until January 4 to respond.
photo by Gage Skidmore/flickr