Blog of Rights

Getting Joe Arpaio in Sync with the Constitution and Away from Racial Profiling

By Steve Gosset, ACLU at 2:29pm

The rule of law and how Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs his office are often mutually exclusive.

Arpaio, whose jurisdiction includes the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area, has been labeled by supporters as “America’s toughest sheriff.” Unfortunately, he achieved that moniker by routinely violating the human rights of jail inmates and ignoring the constitutional protections of those he swore to protect.

In recent years, the legend of “Sheriff Joe”— as he’s known locally — has taken a darker turn as he took it upon himself to enforce immigration laws, mainly by stopping and detaining Latinos merely because they were, well, Latino. That’s especially problematic in Maricopa County, where census figures put the Hispanic population at nearly 30 percent.

Now, enough may finally be enough. Last Friday, the U.S. District Court in Phoenix issued an injunction to stop Arpaio’s office from detaining or arresting people based only on suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally without any evidence of criminal activity. The court also certified the four-year-old civil rights lawsuit, for which the ACLU is co-counsel, as a class action. This allows any Latino who has been stopped or detained by the sheriff’s office since 2007 (or anyone who might be in the future) to enforce the court order.

The suit seeks to change how Arpaio enforces immigration laws and does not ask for monetary damages.

“The district court ruled that the sheriff’s policy of detaining people merely based on a suspicion that they are in the U.S. unlawfully violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

It’s been a bad month for Arpaio and his minions who have tossed aside fundamental freedoms that don’t conform to their worldview.

A federal Department of Justice report on Dec. 15 blasted Arpaio for running an office rife with systemic violations of civil rights, including a rampant pattern of racial profiling. Among other violations, an investigation found that as part of their “unconstitutional policing,” sheriff’s deputies were four to nine times more likely to pull over Latino drivers than non-Latinos. Deputies were also found to punish Latino inmates who did not understand commands in English.

The court ruling led a group of Latino and political leaders in Phoenix yesterday to call for Arpaio’s resignation. It wasn’t the first time that demand has been made, but coupled with the DOJ’s scathing report, it is resonating more than ever. “If Sheriff Arpaio doesn’t change, he must step down,” Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox told the Arizona Republic. “We will not stand for racial profiling.”

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