DOJ Seeks To Intervene In Victorious Racial Profiling Case Against Arpaio

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 6:47pm
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2015 - 7:22pm
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The U.S. Department of Justice wants to have a seat at the table in a case that found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under Joe Arpaio’s leadership racially profiled Latino drivers. The DOJ argues it wants to help ensure the sheriff’s office complies with court orders to reform its policies.

The class action lawsuit was litigated by a coalition of lawyers, including the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Latino motorists. The plaintiffs argued Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration enforcement tactics unfairly targeted Latinos in traffic stops.

In 2013 U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow found the sheriff’s office had discriminated against Latinos and ordered MCSO to adopt sweeping changes to prevent profiling. The case is ongoing to ensure the sheriff’s office complies.

Separately, the US Department of Justice filed its own civil rights lawsuit against the county and Arpaio in 2012, which included the same racial profiling claims plus a few more issues.

The DOJ secured a court ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver that the sheriff’s office had racially profiled Latinos in traffic stops. The ruling, however, was based on the ACLU’s earlier victory in the other case.  

Now the federal government wants to resolve its case by joining the ACLU’s case to ensure the sheriff’s office stops making discriminatory traffic stops.

Attorneys for the DOJ filed a motion July 20 asking Snow to allow them to intervene in the case, arguing it will be more efficient than duplicating efforts.

The ACLU notified the court that it did not oppose the Department of Justice’s motion. The addition of the DOJ to the case could provide the plaintiffs with additional resources.

“The Department of Justice will bring some degree of expertise and valuable assistance to the ACLU and the court in fashioning a remedy,” said Paul Charlton, the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona who is watching these cases closely.  

Plus, compliance in the ACLU’s case has been a major issue.

Arpaio and his chief deputy admitted this spring they violated Snow’s orders in the case, and they now face contempt of court.

Just last week Snow accused the sheriff’s office of withholding records. He then ordered U.S. Marshals to seize them.  

“Defendant Arpaio’s hostility to the remedial order in this case, and his contumacious conduct, have garnered national media attention,” wrote the DOJ attorneys in their motion to intervene. “The consequences of his defiance of the order will be closely followed not only by the general public, but by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. No current party to this case adequately represents the United States’ unique interest in consistent and effective nationwide enforcement of civil rights laws concerning police misconduct.”

Meanwhile, however, the DOJ has been the target of some criticism for agreeing to settle most of the remainder of its civil rights case against the sheriff’s office earlier this month. Many of Arpaio’s critics were disappointed the settlement terms were not tougher on the sheriff.

Charlton wanted to see the DOJ bring the sheriff’s office to trial over allegations Arpaio had retaliated against his critics, including judges.

“The Department of Justice has resolved those issues without any significant admissions and without proving any wrongdoing,” Charlton said. “I think that is a loss for the public and a loss for the Department of Justice.”

The sheriff’s office has yet to indicate if it opposes the DOJ intervening in the case, and Snow has yet to rule on the motion.