The U.S. Department of Justice is stepping up its investigation into the office of Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., and a nationally known opponent of illegal immigration.
DOJ attorneys filed a complaint today in U.S. District Court in Arizona, alleging that Arpaio and his staff have obstructed their investigation. The department wants to know whether the sheriff’s office is discriminating based on national origin in its police practices and jail operations, according to the 10-page complaint (PDF).
So far, the department alleges, Arpaio’s staff has responded to the investigation with only a handful of documents. “Despite notice of their obligation to comply in full with the United States’ requests for information, Defendants have refused to do so,” the complaint says.
Robert Driscoll, a partner in the Washington office of Alston & Bird who represents the sheriff’s office, said in a statement that he has tried to cooperate with the Justice Department. He said he met with DOJ officials on Friday, telling them the sheriff's office would cooperate with "all reasonable document requests" and would schedule interviews with senior staff.
"We were awaiting a response from DOJ, and this lawsuit is apparently it," Driscoll said in the statement. "Clearly DOJ is more interested in filing its third lawsuit in as many weeks against Arizona defendants than in looking into the allegations that purportedly gave rise to its investigation."
The Justice Department’s filing says that the federal government has a right to examine certain documents from the sheriff’s office because the office receives federal grant money. Four attorneys from the department’s Civil Rights Division are on the brief, in addition to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke.
Updated at 4:25 p.m. with Driscoll's response.