Saturday, May 25, 2013
District Judge Finds Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Office Engaged in Unconstitutional Racial Profiling
In a 142 page opinion and order in Melendres v. Arpaio, United States District Judge G. Murray Snow found that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office [MCSO] led by Sheriff Arpaio unconstitutionally relied upon "Mexican ancestry" in stopping and detaining persons in its jurisdiction.
Recall that Sheriff Arpaio is a controversial figure who has styled himself as America's "toughest sheriff" and whose policies such as shackling pregnant inmates giving birth and forcing male inmates to "wear pink" have been subject to constitutional challenge.
In the Melendres class action lawsuit, the district judge listed the issues as:
- whether, and to what extent, the Fourth Amendment permits the MCSO to question, investigate, and/or detain Latino occupants of motor vehicles it suspects of being in the country without authorization when it has no basis to bring state charges against such persons;
- whether the MCSO uses race as a factor, and, if so, to what extent it is permissible under the Fourth Amendment to use race as a factor in forming either reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain a person for being present without authorization;
- whether the MCSO uses race as a factor, and if so, to what extent it is permissible under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use race as a factor in making law enforcement decisions that affect Latino occupants of motor vehicles in Maricopa County;
- whether the MCSO prolongs traffic stops to investigate the status of vehicle occupants beyond the time permitted by the Fourth Amendment; and
- whether being in this country without authorization provides sufficient reasonable suspicion or probable cause under the Fourth Amendment that a person is violating or conspiring to violate Arizona law related to immigration status.
The judge's extensive discussion of the trial and his findings of fact provide a detailed portrait of the MCSO's attempts to enforce immigration laws, including its "LEAR" policy (Law Enforcement Agency Response in conjunction with federal immigration authorities), "saturation patrols," and mixed messages about the permissibility of the consideration of race or "Mexican ancestry." The opinion details the often rocky relationship between MCSO and federal ICE regarding immigration enforcement.
Ultimately, Judge Snow concluded that that the MCSO's stated prohibition of "racial profiling" was limited to an exclusive reliance on race but allowed race to be a factor and did not strive to be race-neutral. In keeping with this policy, the MCSO routinely relied upon race as a factor according to Judge Snow. Such policies and practices violate both the Fourth Amendment and the Equal protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Judge entered a permanent injunction prohibiting MCSO from:
- detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of vehicles in Maricopa County based on a reasonable belief, without more, that such persons are in the country without authorization,
- following or enforcing its LEAR policy against any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County;
- using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in determining to stop any vehicle in Maricopa County with a Latino occupant;
- using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in making law enforcement decisions with respect to whether any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County may be in the country without authorization;
- detaining Latino occupants of vehicles stopped for traffic violations for a period longer than reasonably necessary to resolve the traffic violation in the absence of reasonable suspicion that any of them have committed or are committing a violation of federal or state criminal law;
- detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of a vehicle in Maricopa County for violations of the Arizona Human Smuggling Act without a reasonable basis for believing that, under all the circumstances, the necessary elements of the crime are present;
- detaining, arresting or holding persons based on a reasonable suspicion that they are conspiring with their employer to violate the Arizona Employer Sanctions Act.
Judge Snow encouraged the parties to engage in further negotiations toward a settlement for implementing the injunction and included references to other settlements. However, Sheriff Arpaio has reportedly already proclaimed his intention to appeal.