In a stunning defeat for the self-styled “toughest sheriff in America,” a federal judge issued a ruling last week that Joe Arpaio and his office engaged in conduct that constituted a violation of the constitutional rights of Latino drivers in their attempt to crack down on illegal immigration. The decision came eight months after a week-long non-jury trial in a case brought by Hispanic drivers, who sought a declaratory judgment, but no money damages, as a result of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office using race and/or ancestry as a basis for stopping, detaining or holding drivers and passengers. It also included a swipe against the “saturation patrols” utilized by Arpaio’s officers to attempt to nab illegal immigrants.

A hearing is scheduled in the case for June 14 to determine what corrective action will be required by law enforcement in Maricopa County.

The ruling came as no surprise to many, since Arpaio has long been accused of unconstitutional tactics when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration. Indeed, we reported in our blog of May 15, 2012 (Justice Department Sues Joe Arpaio) about another lawsuit, this one by the United States Department of Justice, which also alleges targeting of Latinos for pretextual traffic stops, and other illegal actions. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

While the result in the case was not a shock, what was interesting was the response by the Sheriff’s Department to the claims of constitutional violations. According to a report from ABC World News, an attorney for Arpaio and the Sheriff’s Office stated that while the allegations of racial profiling were denied, if there was any violation, it occurred because the Sheriff’s deputies were not trained properly by the federal government, specifically Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. We’re not quite sure what to make of this argument, but it apparently involves placing the blame on poor training by the U.S. government of local law enforcement personnel – the same government that sued Arpaio a year ago for racial profiling. We, on the other hand, always assumed that Maricopa County bore the responsibility for training its own officers.

In any event, we’ll have to wait until next month to see how the court will fashion a remedy for the illegal behavior. In the meantime, Arpaio’s lawyers say they will appeal last week’s ruling. The basis for the appeal was not specified.

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