In our blog of December 21, 2011, we reported that the United States Justice Department was investigating the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) amid claims of racial profiling and other improper conduct aimed at Latinos. Apparently unable to reach an agreement with Sheriff Joe Arpaio concerning the allegations, the Justice Department last week filed a 32-page complaint in Federal District Court declaring that Arpaio, the Sheriff’s Department and the County have engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination. The complaint seeks (a) a declaration that the defendants have denied Latinos their constitutional and federal statutory rights; and (b) an order requiring the defendants to refrain from continuing their conduct, and to adopt procedures to address the systematic practice of discrimination.

The gist of the complaint is that the MCSO discriminated against Latinos because of their race, color and/or national origin as follows:

  • Targeting Latinos for pretextual traffic stops;
  • Unconstitutional detention of Latino drivers and passengers;
  • Unlawful searches and seizures of Latinos; and
  • Targeting Latinos during home and worksite raids.

There is, however, another allegation in the complaint, and this one does not necessarily involve Latinos. The claim is that the defendants have unlawfully retaliated against and attempted to intimidate critics of the MCSO and Arpaio, in violation of those critics’ rights under the First Amendment (free speech).

But let’s get down to specifics. The complaint sets forth numerous examples of the targeting of Latinos by officers of the MCSO, and while we won’t attempt to list them all, here are some highlights:

  • Depending upon which segment of the County you look at, Latinos were between four and nine times as likely to be the subject of a traffic stop than non-Latinos engaging in the same conduct;
  • MCSO’s Human Smuggling Unit (HSU) engages in pretextual traffic stops, often relying upon such factors as whether the passengers appear “disheveled” or do not speak English. It is further alleged that the 15 officers who make up the HSU are not properly trained to do their jobs; and
  • Close to 90% of those detained by MCSO in its “suppression sweeps” (crime suppression operations) have not committed any criminal offense.

The complaint goes on to cite individual cases, including one involving a pregnant Latina who was roughed up by deputies, and other in which a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, was manhandled a quarter mile from her home.

We think it is also worth detailing some of the retaliation and intimidation claims by the Justice Department:

  • Five separate complaints were filed (on behalf of MCSO and Arpaio) with the Arizona State Bar Association against attorneys who were openly critical of MCSO and Arpaio;
  • Four complaints were filed (on behalf of MCSO and Arpaio) with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct against judges who criticized MSCO and Arpaio or who had issued rulings that Arpaio disagreed with; and
  • Arpaio was a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Maricopa County Attorney charging various individuals who were critical of him and his office with engaging in a criminal enterprise. The case was abandoned as without merit, and the County Attorney has since been disbarred, at least in part for his role in the case.

Unfortunately, Joe Arpaio has decided not to deal with the specifics of these charges, which have been in the news for months. Rather, he is generally quoted as saying, in effect, that none of these events ever happened. The problem is that we’re pretty sure they happen, mayabe on a regular basis. And attempting to ignore the problem by pretending it does not exist is bad not only for the individuals who have been mistreated, but also for Maricopa County, the State of Arizona and the United States of America.

Law Offices of David A. Black
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Phoenix, AZ 85004
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