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Arizona's Notorious Sheriff Is Called out on Unconstitutional Police Practices

Cecillia Wang,
Deputy Legal Director,
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December 17, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that after a three-year investigation, it found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has engaged in a pattern and practice of racial profiling against Latino residents. The Justice Department also found the office unlawfully retaliated against its critics, discriminated against Latinos held in its jails and failed to provide policing services to the county’s Latino residents.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who lives in Maricopa County. For years, the MCSO has terrorized its own community with what the Justice Department’s expert called the most egregious case of racial profiling he has ever observed.

As the ACLU discovered in its ongoing lawsuit against MCSO, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has forwarded racially charged and derogatory emails about Latinos to his senior staff. Those messages have been taken to heart by MCSO personnel. MCSO has improperly engaged in immigration enforcement and equated “illegal” with Latino. And who has paid the price? Latino residents – including countless U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants – whose civil rights have been violated. For example, ACLU clients Jessika and David Rodriguez, both U.S citizens, were stopped by MCSO deputies. While their two young children watched in fear from the back seat of the car, the Rodriguezes were pulled over for driving on a supposedly closed section of rural road. While MCSO deputies permitted several white drivers to drive on past their observation post, the deputies demanded to see Mr. Rodriguez’s social security card, after he had already produced his Arizona driver’s license.

But it’s not only the Latino residents of Maricopa County who have paid the price for the sheriff’s illegal conduct. MCSO has failed to act on thousands of felony arrest warrants, and recent news stories have exposed MCSO’s utter failure to investigate incidents of rape and sexual assault. While the sheriff has been fixated on ferreting out “illegals” based on racial stereotypes, serious crimes have gone unaddressed in Maricopa County.

The Justice Department’s report may be a huge step toward a new and long-awaited day in Maricopa County when everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, can drive down the street without fear of being required to prove their right to be here.

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