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All Eyes on Arpaio

Cecillia Wang,
Deputy Legal Director,
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October 4, 2013

A federal judge in Arizona has delivered a major – and hopefully final – victory in the fight to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) from racial profiling and illegal detentions that target Latinos.

In a ruling on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ordered numerous concrete measures to ensure that Arpaio and his deputies stop violating the U.S. Constitution. They include the appointment of a federal monitor, the creation of a community advisory board, video and audio recording of every vehicle stop his officers make, wholesale changes to MCSO policies and training, and data collection on how traffic stops are carried out. The order should put an end to the sheriff’s recalcitrant attitude and refusal to see the need for serious reform. It includes almost all the measures requested by the plaintiffs, including many that Arpaio doggedly resisted. The order will be in place for a minimum of three years as MCSO is required to institute sweeping reforms.

By issuing this injunction, the U.S. district court instituted major changes needed to address years of discriminatory practices and unconstitutional policies that occurred under Sheriff Arpaio’s leadership. These practices included targeting Latinos for traffic stops based solely on their race and detaining Latinos in order to interrogate them about their immigration status. It was revealed in court that many of the operations conducted by MCSO were in places suggested to Arpaio in calls, emails and letters from racists complaining about immigrants in their communities. For example, one caller asked the police department why “nobody gets all the Mexicans hanging out” in a certain area, and another person complained that Spanish was being spoken at a McDonald’s and asking that a raid be conducted there to get rid of the illegal immigrants.

Five brave individual plaintiffs and Phoenix-based community group Somos America stepped forward to lead the litigation on behalf of the certified class. Among our clients were Jessika and David Rodriguez, both U.S. citizens, who were singled out while driving with their young children. An MCSO deputy allegedly pulled the Rodriguez family over for driving on a stretch of road that had been washed out by a storm. During the stop, the MCSO deputy demanded that Mr. Rodriguez produce his social security card and issued him a citation. The Rodriguez family watched helplessly as other, non-Latino drivers were waved through the area by MCSO deputies.

Such humiliating violations have come to an end. The final injunction follows previous orders in December 2012 and May of this year, in which the court ruled that MCSO has violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by targeting Latinos for traffic stops and detaining them based solely on suspicion of illegal immigration status. The May ruling came after a three-week trial in July and August of 2012, during which the plaintiffs’ team submitted voluminous evidence that the MCSO was illegally discriminating against Latinos. The plaintiffs proved—through the MCSO’s internal correspondence and public statements, and statistical analyses—that the MCSO had the intent to discriminate. Evidence also showed that the discrimination had harmful effects, including higher traffic stop rates and longer stop times for Latinos.

The court order overruled one of MCSO’s most vehement objections in mandating the creation of a Community Advisory Board. That step is critical as it could begin to repair the deeply damaged relationship between MCSO and those members of the Maricopa County community that have been directly harmed by Arpaio’s discriminatory policies.

“Thanks to the brave souls who came forward to tell their stories, the MCSO is being held accountable,” said Lydia Guzman of Somos America. “It’s not a crime to be brown and now we have the necessary tools to make sure that Sheriff Arpaio doesn’t forget that.”

Counsel on Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al. included Cecillia Wang and Andre Segura from the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Daniel Pochoda and Anne Lai (cooperating attorney) from ACLU of Arizona, Nancy Ramirez from MALDEF, and from Covington & Burling, LLP, Stanley Young, Andrew Byrnes, Lesli Gallagher, and David Hults.

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