'America's Toughest Sheriff' to Answer Profiling Claims
By William Hermann and Edvard Pettersson – Jul 24, 2012 12:00 AM ET .
Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County official who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” may testify as early as today at a trial in which he and his deputies are accused of racially profiling Latinos.
Arpaio, 80, is scheduled to be called as a witness by lawyers backed by the American Civil Liberties Union who represent all Latinos who have been stopped, detained, questioned or searched by Arpaio’s deputies since January 2007. They seek a court ruling that the sheriff’s so-called saturation patrols violated the group’s constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow in Phoenix will decide the case without a jury. The class-action lawsuit includes allegations similar to those made by the U.S. Justice Department in a suit it filed in May against Arpaio, his office and the county. The U.S. accuses Arpaio of “intentionally and systematically” discriminating against Latinos.
Arpaio has denied the allegations. His lawyers have said the traffic stops conducted by saturation patrols weren’t racially motivated and were prompted by the plaintiffs’ violations of traffic laws.
The sheriff serves Arizona’s biggest county by population, with 3.8 million residents. His methods, including the saturation patrols or “crime suppression” sweeps in predominantly Latino areas in and around Phoenix, the state’s largest city, have won him praise from groups seeking a crackdown on illegal entrants to the U.S. and made him a target of advocates for immigrants’ rights.
The case began in 2007, when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, who was in the U.S. legally on a tourist visa, was detained by sheriff’s deputies near a Cave Creek church where day laborers often gathered.
A driver had picked up Melendres and two other men and was driving away from the church when a deputy stopped the car for speeding. The driver, who was white, wasn’t cited and was allowed to leave, while the Hispanic men were held. Melendres said in the lawsuit that a nine-hour detention that followed was unlawful.
“Three Mexicans in a vehicle and one Anglo driver,” Louis Moffa Jr., one of the lawyers who filed the original complaint in 2007, said in a phone interview. “The Mexicans are arrested, the driver goes on his way. We see in other traffic stops that this was common.”
Melendres is one of the five named plaintiffs in the case. The other four are U.S. citizens.
David Rodriguez, of Mesa, Arizona, testified July 19 that in December 2007, while “four-wheeling” with his family on a dirt road near Bartlett Dam, he inadvertently drove onto a closed road, as did several other vehicles.
Rodriguez said he was cited by a deputy, while the other drivers, all of whom Rodriguez described as white, weren’t cited. Rodriguez said he believed he was cited because he is Hispanic.
Tim Casey, an attorney for Arpaio and the sheriff’s office, reminded Rodriguez during cross-examination that he had testified that he’d driven more than 60,000 miles in Maricopa County since being stopped and had not once been pulled over by sheriff’s deputies.
The plaintiffs are asking for a federally appointed monitor to be put in place in the sheriff’s office to ensure racial profiling doesn’t take place.
The case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 07-02513, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
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