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Attorneys Assist With Claims Against Maricopa County Sheriff's Office For Unlawful Detentions
A handful of people came to claim what’s owed them this weekend. Saturday afternoon, people who say they were targeted by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s unlawful immigration policies attended a clinic where they could get legal advice on how to process a claim against the county.
The ACLU of Arizona and Los Abogados, Arizona’s Hispanic Bar Association, provided free legal advice at the First Church in central Phoenix.
The ACLU’s Brenda Munoz Furnish was one of about 15 attorneys guiding people through a claim for compensation ordered by a federal judge in the Melendres v. Arpaio lawsuit.
“People have been asking who qualifies,” Munoz Furnish said. “That really is the tricky part about this program in that it really does only apply to a certain set of Arpaio’s victims.”
People who were stopped or held by MCSO between Dec. 23, 2011, and May 24, 2013, can apply for claims from a $500,000 pool of money set aside by the county.
The county hired an outside firm, BrownGreer, to locate and distribute funds to 189 people MCSO identified. Those people have essentially been pre-qualified to receive the minimum claim of $500.
What is unknown is how many unidentified victims remain.
About 10 people showed up looking for assistance Saturday afternoon. Munoz Furnish said it’s understandable for victims to be hesitant about giving their personal information out.
“We know that is going to be something people in the community are feeling — understandably so,” she said. “So we want people to know their information will be protected pursuant to a court order.”
Munoz Furnish said victims could also have been detained by other agencies.
“You can also apply for detention by CBP or ICE and also other injuries that you experienced such as medical expenses, lost wages, loss of housing,” she said.
A laborer named Miguel, who asked that his last name not be published, was detained in one of Arpaio’s workplace raids and ended up spending nine months in county jail. On Saturday, while Miguel asked the attorneys what kinds of damages he could claim, his son played peekaboo in the church conference area.
“I hope to receive some kind of compensation, because when the raid happened, we really suffered,” Miguel said. “My family and I suffered financially and otherwise.”
Miguel said he does not believe the compensation would restore any form of justice.
“But this process is one way to at least help us — put us back together from all of what happened,” he said.
Billy Peard, an ACLU staff attorney from Tucson, helped Miguel file his claim. Peard said he was not intimately familiar with what life was like in Maricopa County for immigrants during the time of Sheriff Arpaio.
“Hearing this one story,” Peard said of working with Miguel, “and hearing him talk about all the other people he knows — co-workers, family, neighbors — who went through the same thing, it occurred to me how widespread it was for so many years. It didn’t quite come home to me until today.”
Peard said no amount of compensation can bring back the time people like Miguel lost while unlawfully detained. But he said he hopes the legal fallout from the Arpaio saga provides a disincentive to policymakers and law enforcement agencies throughout the country who might be contemplating similar policies.
Marcos Tapia, an attorney and member of Los Abogados, says the stories he heard on Saturday show the Hispanic community has been left with long-term scars after years of abuse.
“There’s still worry, you know,” Tapia said. “Sheriff Joe is gone, but there is still worry.”
He said most questions from the claimants are about how it could affect their future.
“I think it reflects the feeling of the community that they’re apprehensive to come forward,” Tapia said. “There’s still fear out there.”