The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday sued Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., along with his office and county, following an almost four-year investigation into allegations that the controversial lawman and his staff discriminated against Latinos.
A 32-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for Arizona says that the defendants engage in discriminatory law enforcement actions and jail practices against Latinos and illegally retaliate against supposed critics. DOJ is asking the court to order the sheriff's office to put in place procedures and policies intended to prevent the alleged conduct.
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff's office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways," Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
Often referred to as “America’s toughest sheriff,” Arpaio has made national headlines for the tactics his office uses to fight illegal immigration. Among the allegations in the complaint are claims that Arpaio’s office unlawfully targets Latinos for traffic stops and raids because of their race. Also, Latino prisoners with limited English language skills face discrimination at Maricopa County jails, the complaint says.
Jail employees often use derogatory terms to refer to Latinos and have shown anti-Latino bias, according to DOJ. The Department notes that a widely distributed e-mail in the office had a photograph of a Chihuahua in swimming gear with the caption: “A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal.”
The sheriff’s office “and Arpaio’s words and actions set the tone and create a culture of bias that contributes to unlawful actions,” the complaint says.
DOJ attempted to negotiate a settlement with Arpaio and his office after it released in December a highly critical report, which leveled discrimination allegations against the lawman and his deputies. But the sheriff’s office refused to work on an agreement.
In addition to Perez, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr. and Special Litigation Chief Jonathan Smith, as well as trial attorneys Winsome Gayle, Sergio Perez, Jennifer Mondino and Edward Caspar, are listed on the complaint as attorneys for DOJ in the case.