US District Judge Murray Snow ruled May 24 that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office illegally engaged in racial profiling, and prohibited deputies from using race as a factor in law-enforcement decisions, detaining people solely for suspected immigration violations, or contacting federal immigration authorities to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants who are not accused of committing state crimes. Critics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's controversial immigration enforcement efforts said they felt vindicated by the ruling. "In my mind, people have been very abused in our communities," said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. "We knew racial profiling was taking place and it was very hard to prove it."
The case, Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al, began in 2007, when when Manuel Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist in the United States legally, was stopped while riding in a car outside a church in Cave Creek where day laborers were known to gather. Melendres said that deputies illegally detained him for nine hours. Later, the case grew to include complaints from two siblings from Chicago who said they were profiled by Maricopa deputies, and from an assistant to former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon whose Latino husband said he was detained and cited while nearby white motorists were treated differently.
The suit did not seek monetary damages, but measures to end the profiling: specifically, a declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects, and a court-appointed monitor to ensure the agency lives by those rules. Snow set a hearing for mid-June to determine how the Sheriff’s Office will ensure it is adhering to the court's ruling. (Arizona Republic, ACLU, May 24)
The 9th Circuit is meanwhile hearing an appeal of the conviction of former Maricopa County attorneys on charges that they targeted various officials and judges on behalf of Sheriff Arpaio. The claims stem from a series of complaints filed in 2010, accusing Arpaio and his lackeys of bringing baseless criminal investigations, including a complaint for alleged violations of federal anti-racketeering law, to retaliate against judges for court rulings and against county employees for budget cuts to his office. The RICO complaint was dismissed. A federal judge in Phoenix ultimately consolidated seven actions brought by retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields; Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe; Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson; County Supervisor Don Stapley; Sue Schuerman, a deputy administrator to Stapley; and several others. Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and former Maricopa County Deputy Attorney Lisa Aubuchon claimed that they had prosecutorial immunity, but US District Judge Neil Wake upheld the claims against them last year. Wake had said the RICO action brought against the plaintiffs had "no basis of governmental enforcement under RICO itself." (Courthouse News, May 13)
See our last post on the struggle in Arizona.