DoJ: Arizona sheriff’s office violates civil rights

The US Department of Justice on Dec. 15 announced the findings of its three-year civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution and laws of the US in three areas. First, the DOJ found that the MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, specifically in racial profiling of Latinos and in the unlawful stops, detains and arrests resulting therefrom. Next, the DoJ found that the MCSO unlawfully retaliates against people who criticize its policies and practices. Finally, the DoJ found reasonable cause to believe that the MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient, routinely punishing them when they fail to understand commands given in English, and denying critical services that are provided to other inmates. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez made the findings announcement, criticizing the MCSO for failing to cooperate with requests for information, which caused the investigation to to take longer than expected.

Perez concluded:

The problems identified in our letter of findings are very serious. They affect public safety, officer safety on the street and in the jail, and they implicate important constitutional protections. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. Other departments have recognized this, and we are working collaboratively with us to address important issues… If collaboration again proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.

The investigation found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, one that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections, the problems of which are compounded by the MCSO’s penchant for retaliation against people who speak out against them. The DOJ is also reviewing allegations that the MCSO has failed to investigate a large number of sex crimes.

From Jurist, Dec. 16. Used with permission.

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Arizona.

  1. Arpaio’s officers leave inmate brain dead?
    As the DoJ finds Sheriff Joe Arpaio engaged in “unconstitutional policing” with a “pervasive culture of bias” against Latinos (NYT, Dec. 16), rights abuses seem to continue in Maricopa County. The Tucson Citizen reports breaking claims that Arpaio’s officers have left a Latino inmate brain dead and on life support. Phoenix homicide detectives are investigating.

  2. DoJ files discrimination suit against Arizona sheriff
    The US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed suit May 10 against Maricopa County, Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio alleging discriminatory conduct. The DoJ claims that Arpaio and his department engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory and unlawful law enforcement actions against Latinos. According to the complaint, “Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and Latino prisoners with limited English language skills are denied important constitutional protections.” The DoJ is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that the sheriff’s office implements policies to prevent discriminatory conduct. Speaking at a press conference, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said:

    The police are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not divide them. At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff and sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, compromised public safety, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics. Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand-in-hand. Our complaint alleges that the defendants’ actions were neither constitutional nor effective.

    The suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Arizona. (Jurist, May 10)