Maricopa County Votes To Settle Part Of Racial Profiling Case

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 2:12pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 5:04pm

Maricopa County board of supervisors have voted to settle portions of a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against the Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the county.

The settlement has still not been signed by all the parties or approved by the federal judge overseeing the case.

The Department of Justice did not confirm a settlement had been reached. In a statement, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Mark Kappelhoff said, "We have been in ongoing discussions with defendants to settle our claims, and we look forward to finalizing these discussions soon in a manner that ensures that the federal rights of the residents of Maricopa County are protected."

Under the tentative agreement the county approved Wednesday, the county will not have to pay any monetary damages.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the county were sued by the DOJ in 2012 over a series of alleged civil rights abuses.

The DOJ suit claimed the sheriff’s office violated the First Amendment rights of its critics by illegally retaliating against them with baseless criminal charges or lawsuits.

There were also claims the sheriff’s office discriminated against non-English-speaking jail inmates by not providing adequate translation services, and that the sheriff’s office made improper searches and arrests in its worksite raids targeting unauthorized immigrant workers.

The tentative settlement will call for new policies and trainings for worksite raids and language services for non-English-speaking inmates. It also calls for the adoption of a new policy to prevent retaliation against the sheriff's critics.

The parties, however, did not reach an agreement over claims of discriminatory policing, and that portion of the suit may still go to trial in August.   

"I am hoping that the sheriff, sheriff’s office does comply with this agreement," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo. "That was one of my biggest concerns is what kind of oversight or assessments do we have? The Department of Justice is going to play a part in the assessment part with the sheriff’s understanding that if he doesn't comply, we are going to be right back in court."

Some critics say the proposed language does not have enough teeth to truly hold the sheriff accountable.

Lydia Guzman, an activist who helped gather information to bring the lawsuit expressed disappointment on Wednesday that the full case would not be going to trial.

"After all of these years of doing research bringing victims to Department of Justice as well as gathering evidence, I feel like I've been cheated,” Guzman said.

While no monetary damages are part of the tentative settlement, there will be the cost of implementing the proposed agreement. And this case has already cost the county millions of dollars in legal fees for the last three years of pre-trial litigation.

The Department of Justice racial profiling case is separate from the racial profiling lawsuit brought against MCSO by the American Civil Liberties Union. In that case, the court-appointed monitor released a report Tuesday that said the sheriff has been slow to implement some of the mandatory training that is due for supervisors.

Arpaio and other staffers are facing contempt of court charges in that case for violating the judge's orders. Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow refused a motion to recuse himself and wanted to reschedule the next round of contempt proceedings. But Tuesday the sheriff's lawyers asked to put that on hold so they can ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to force Snow off the case.

Updated 7/15/2015 at 4:53 p.m.