Feds: Ariz. Sheriff Arpaio Violated Civil Rights, Is Biased Against Latinos
An outspoken anti-immigrant county sheriff in Arizona has committed a score of human rights violations and fueled a department-wide bias against Latino residents, federal investigators found.
The Department of Justice released a report [PDF] on Thursday that confirms a slew of very serious concerns over widespread discriminatory policing practices led by the Maricopa Sheriff’s County Office. One leading expert involved in the Justice Department’s case cited some of the findings as being some of the most “egregious racial profiling [ever] seen,” particularly against Latino residents, regardless of their immigrations status.
Embattled Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been accused of such practices for several years, resisted complying with the Division of Civil Rights, refusing them access to key documents and pertinent personnel when he was made aware of the investigation in 2009, one year after the department’s initial inquiry began. Eventually, the federal government filed suit against the county under Title VI in September 2010, finally prompting cooperation on part of the Sheriff’s Office.
The results of the investigation are staggering. According to a summary of the findings:
- Latinos are between four and nine times more likely to be pulled over by a police officer in Maricopa County.Further analysis shows that many instances occurred in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against stops without adequate cause.
- The Sheriff’s Office makes use of unverified tips by constituents that unfairly target innocent Latinos.The report provides a number of anecdotes in which Sheriff Arpaio led immigration operations at sites without adequate cause beyond a constituent complaining about suspected individuals working without papers. These include a letter to Arpaio reporting that a local McDonald’s restaurant had employees who “don’t speak English” and that he should “check this out.” Arpaio thanked the tipster and then conducted an immigration operation in that city two weeks later.
- Officers have been known to arrest or detain Latinos, or search their home or vehicle, without cause. The report details how approximately one-fifth of traffic stops from the Sheriff Office’s human smuggling operation were “conducted without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” In another instance, officers searched a legal immigrant’s home without consent and then detained him and his 12-year-old citizen son without cause.
- Once incarcerated, the county unfairly punishes Latino inmates with limited English proficiency.Non-English speaking inmates do not immediately understand English commands of jail personnel often face discriminatory punishment (including solitary confinement), and are refused basic services, like requests for new clothes or a change of soiled sheets, because their requests are not in English. They are also more likely to be pressured into signing away their legal rights without language assistance.
- Beyond policing and jail practices, the Sheriff’s Office uses derogatory and discriminatory terms in conversations, emails, and other correspondence.Using county email accounts, officers have mocked individuals of Mexican origin, including sending a fake driver license with an “individual caricatured to be Mexican and designated as originating from ‘Mexifornia,’ with a driver class of ‘illegal alien.’ The discriminatory culture is fueled by Sheriff Arpaio, the report says, and is also evident in the jail system.
The report is being released only days after the Supreme Court announced that it would review the case regarding Arizona’s SB 1070, the first law in a wave of state efforts to override the federal government’s authority on immigration issues though draconian “papers please” legislation. Some of the findings in the federal report mirror attitudes toward immigrants, and Latinos in particular, embodied in this type of legislation.
The full report reveals what many suspected for a long time—a number of the operations led by the Sheriff’s Office point to discriminatory policing and detention practices that severely discriminate against Latinos, regardless of their immigration status. Additionally, the report calls for separate investigations on other highly problematic concerns uncovered in this case, including problems resulting from a reduction of policing services in Latino communities, excessive force used against Latinos, and sex crimes based on national origin bias.
Eduardo Garcia is advocacy manager at Campus Progress. Follow him @itseddie.