Thursday, May 10, 2012

Adios, Sheriff Joe!


Earlier Today, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez, speaking in Maricopa County, Arizona today announced that "the Department of Justice did something it has done only once before in the 18-year history of our civil police reform work; we filed a contested lawsuit to stop discriminatory and unconstitutional law enforcement practices. In our police reform work, we have invariably been able to work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies to build better departments and safer communities. Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Arpaio have been a glaring exception. Attempts to forge solutions to address the serious civil rights and public safety concerns have proven elusive." Here is the complaint.

Matters have gone distinctly downhill for Sheriff Arpaio, known for his tough-on-immigration stands, since the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2011 issued a scathing report documenting the rampant civil rights violations of Latinos and immigrants by his officer.

The introductory paragraphs in the Complaint in the DOJ action offer a firm sense of the strong case that the government has built against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office:

1.  The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio (Arpaio) have engaged and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos in Maricopa County and jail practices that unlawfully discriminate against Latino prisoners with limitedEnglish language skills. For example, Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin, andLatino prisoners with limited English language skills are denied important  constitutional protections. In addition, Defendants MCSO and Arpaio pursue apattern or practice of illegal retaliation against their perceived critics by subjectingthem to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits, or meritlessadministrative actions.

2. As a result of the pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination, Latinos in Maricopa County are systematically denied their constitutional rights; the relationshipbetween MCSO and key segments of the community is eroded, making it more difficult for MCSO to fight crime; and the safety of prisoners and officers in the jails is jeopardized. Constitutional policing is an essential element of effective lawenforcement. MCSO and Arpaio’s conduct is neither constitutional nor effective law enforcement.

3. Defendant Maricopa County, which is responsible for funding and oversight of MCSO, has failed to ensure that MCSO’s programs or activities complywith the requirements of the Constitution and federal law.

4. The Defendants’ violations of the Constitution and laws of the United States are the product of a culture of disregard in MCSO for Latinos that starts at thetop and pervades the organization. MCSO jail employees frequently refer to Latinos as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” and “stupid Mexicans.” MCSO supervisors involved in immigration enforcement have expressed anti-Latino bias, in one instance widely distributing an email that included a photograph of a Chihuahua dog dressed in swimming gear with the caption “A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal.” MCSO and Arpaio’s words and actions set the tone and create a culture of bias that contributes to unlawful actions.

5. MCSO promotes, and is indifferent to, the discriminatory conduct of its law enforcement officers, as is demonstrated by inadequate policies, ineffective training,virtually non-existent accountability measures, poor supervision, scant data collection mechanisms, distorted enforcement prioritization, an ineffective complaint and disciplinary system, and dramatic departures from standard law enforcementpractices.

6. This Complaint sets out three categories of unlawful conduct: (1) a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos in Maricopa County; (2) discriminatory jail practices against Latinoprisoners with limited English language skills; and (3) a pattern or practice of retaliatory actions against perceived critics of MCSO activities.

7. This action is brought to enforce the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment,and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141; Title VI of the CivilRights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d to 2000d-7; the Title VI implementingregulations issued by the United States Department of Justice, 28 C.F.R. §§ 42.101 to42.112; and Title VI contractual assurances.

8. The United States seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy the Defendants’ violations of the law and to ensure that MCSO implements sustainable reforms establishing police and jail practices that are constitutional. Implementation of constitutional policing practices will enhance public safety for people in Maricopa County.


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