Feds issue scathing report against Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

December 15, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice levied charges of unconstitutional policing against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday. The investigation into civil rights abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been going on for more than three years.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe ArpaioMaricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Photo courtesy of NPR)

Read the Department of Justice letter to the Maricopa County Attorney.

Listen to the Department of Justice reveal the findings of the sheriff's office investigation.

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After reviewing tens of thousands of documents and interviewing more than 400 people, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office found a pattern of repeated violations by the sheriff’s office.

The violations include illegal traffic stops of Latino drivers, retaliation against critics and discriminatory treatment of Latino detainees.  

It found reasonable cause to believe that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office racially profiled Latinos, including unlawful traffic stops.  Civil Rights Division attorney Thomas Perez said one policing expert assisting the investigation found Latino drivers four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latinos.

The expert said what he found “involved the most egregious racial profiling in the United States” that he had seen, Perez reported.

 Perez said the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office also retaliated against critics. In a letter outlining its findings, the U.S. Attorney’s office highlights the arrest of an immigrant rights leader involved in a peaceful protest one day and arrested the next day while watching another protest from a sidewalk.

“People opposed to the department’s policies were frequently arrested and jailed for no reason or forced to defend against specious civil complaints or other baseless charges,” Perez said.

The report also claims that Latinos with limited English proficiency were discriminated against while in jail, locked up in solitary and denied services because they couldn't understand the language. 

Perez called the sheriff’s office broken as he laid out the allegations. “We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department. A culture that bred a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections,” he said.

The Department of Justice has mandated a series of correctional steps the sheriff’s office must undergo. The office has until January 4 to answer the demands or face federal civil litigation.

In response to today’s report, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced she is terminating the DHS agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on immigration enforcement. She also said she will restrict the sheriff’s office access to the Secure Communities Program.

“Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust. DHS will not be a party to such practices,” Napolitano said in a statement.

The civil rights investigation is only one federal investigation into practices at the sheriff’s office. An unrelated criminal investigation involving the sheriff’s office and the county attorney’s office continues.

KJZZ reporters Michel Marizco and Paul Atkinson, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.

Updated: 12/16/2011 1:47 p.m.

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