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Joe Arpaio cries foul as feds sue America's toughest sheriff

May 10, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department in Arizona are being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged racial profiling and civil-rights violations.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department… (John Moore/Getty Images )

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil  lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his  Arizona department, alleging that he and his deputies engaged in racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio, who has proclaimed himself America’s toughest sheriff, has grabbed headlines for his focus on immigration enforcement.

Last year, the Justice Department issued a scathing report that concluded that his deputies routinely engaged in discriminatory and unconstitutional law enforcement, conducting immigration sweeps instead of investigating crimes, including reports of sexual abuse. Arpaio responded that the investigation was politically motivated. Efforts to negotiate a settlement with the Sheriff’s Department stalled after Arpaio refused to agree to a monitor, arguing it would undermine local law enforcement efforts and authority.

But now it seems that Arpaio believes some of the concerns raised by his policies were caused by an “unfortunate use of language that compounds rather than describes,” what his office does, he wrote in a 17-page letter released Wednesday. In the missive, he says that terms like “culture of cruelty” and “racist” are ''tossed about in headlines and sound bites, while information to support these claims is not offered or communicated through the mainstream media.”

Surely, Arpaio can’t believe that is true, at least in Thursday's news accounts. Thankfully, the Justice Department's lawsuit was rich with very specific information about the allegations of unconstitutional and biased policing. 

For example, the civil-rights complaint describes how Arpaio’s deputies stopped a car carrying four Latino men because the car appeared to be riding a little low – not a crime or traffic violation. The men were ordered out of the car, zip-tied, and forced to sit on the curb for an hour before they were all released, according to the lawsuit. In another case, deputies reported stopping a car because the passengers in the back seat appeared to be laying on top of each other, and were dirty or wore stained clothing. But a photo taken by the officers showed four neatly dressed passengers sitting in the backseat of the car. And in yet another case, the lawsuit outlines how deputies stopped a U.S. citizen, who happened to be Latina, as she was pulling into her driveway. The woman, who was five months pregnant, got out of her car and was ordered to sit on the hood of her car by an officer. When the woman refused, the officer grabbed her arm, and ultimately “slammed her, stomach first” into the car three times, according to the lawsuit. The woman was ticketed for failing to provide identification, though that citation was later changed to failing to provide proof of insurance. She later provided that proof of insurance.

No doubt, Arpaio will likely argue that he is the real victim. But let’s see whether a federal judge agrees.

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