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Court Places Limits on Sheriff Arpaio to Prevent Racial Profiling of Latinos in Arizona
PHOENIX, Az. – A federal judge today set down far-reaching requirements to prevent continued racial profiling by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO). U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow's order follows his ruling in May that Arpaio's office relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos.
"Under the measures put in place by the court, Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies will no longer be able to run roughshod over people's basic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "MCSO can no longer balk at reform. Every person in Maricopa County deserves better than a sheriff's department that commits pervasive civil rights violations at the expense of public safety. The court's order will make sure the agency actually enforces the law and will no longer go on wild goose chases based on racial stereotypes."
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the lead law firm, Covington & Burling LLP, represented a class of Latino residents and a Latino community organization, Somos America, in the lawsuit, Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio.
"Judge Snow recognized that Sheriff Arpaio's years of discriminatory practices and unconstitutional policies required major change—including appointment of a federal monitor, data collection and video recording for every vehicle stop," said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. "Working with the Latino community, the ACLU will seek to ensure that the MCSO's abuses end."
In addition to the appointment of a monitor to keep tabs on the MCSO's behavior, the court insisted upon audio and video recording of all traffic stops, increased training for and monitoring of sheriff's office employees and the implementation of comprehensive record keeping. Officers will also be required to radio in the basis for each traffic stop before making contact with the people in the vehicle.
"Thanks to the brave souls who came forward to tell their stories, the MCSO is being held accountable," said Lydia Guzman of Somos America. "It's not a crime to be brown and now we have the necessary tools to make sure that Sheriff Arpaio doesn't forget that."
Recognizing the need to repair the MCSO's relationship with the public, Judge Snow also mandated the creation of a Community Advisory Board, the appointment of a Community Liaison Officer and the implementation of a community outreach program. The order's requirements must remain in place for no less than three years, Judge Snow said. In May, the court found the policies and practices of Arpaio and his office are discriminatory, and violate the Arizona Constitution, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That ruling stemmed from a three-week trial in July and August of 2012, during which the ACLU and its partners provided evidence to the court that the MCSO was illegally pursuing Latinos. The plaintiffs proved—through the MCSO's internal correspondence and public statements, and statistical analyses—that the MCSO had the intent to discriminate. Evidence also showed that the discrimination had harmful effects, including higher traffic stop rates and longer stop times for Latinos.
"The monitoring, training, recordkeeping and other provisions in the court's order today should go a long way toward reforming the MCSO," said Stan Young, a partner with Covington & Burling. "This reform will help prevent future racial profiling of the kind that Sheriff Arpaio's past policies encouraged. These remedies were necessary to restore public trust and the principle of equal treatment under law."
The MCSO's widespread racial profiling created a culture of fear in Maricopa County, making Latinos anxious that getting in a car could lead to an interrogation by armed officers or incarceration at the county jail.
"The Latino community has waited a long time for the court-mandated reforms that will provide accountability and transparency to the sheriff's office and prevent the abuse of authority that has been so prevalent," said MALDEF Western Regional Counsel Nancy Ramirez. "We are hopeful that these long-awaited reforms will bring much needed change to the sheriff's office."
The ACLU and its partners will continue to fight if Sheriff Arpaio appeals, and will closely monitor the MCSO's activities as the court's order goes into effect.
October 2, 2013
The ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona and Covington and Burling, LLP are representing plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Maricopa County for racial discrimination against Latinos.
The lawsuit charges that Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”) have unlawfully instituted a pattern and practice of targeting Latino drivers and passengers in Maricopa County during traffic stops. MCSO’s practices discriminate on the basis of race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and have resulted in prolonged traffic stops and baseless extended detentions, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In its zeal to rid the community of persons that it believes are undocumented immigrants, MCSO has violated the civil rights of countless U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.
Manuel Ortega Melendres
Manuel Ortega Melendres is a legal visitor to the United States who possessed a valid visa. On September 26, 2007, he was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped by officers from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Cave Creek, Arizona. MCSO was conducting an operation targeted at day laborers. Although the officer who stopped him claimed that the reason he pulled the vehicle over was because the driver was speeding, the driver, who was a Caucasian male, was not given a citation or taken into custody. The officer instead asked Mr. Ortega and the other Latino passengers to produce identification. Though Mr. Ortega provided identification, he was nonetheless arrested. Mr. Ortega spent four hours in a cell in the county jail. Eventually he was taken to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official, who confirmed that he had proper documentation to be in the United States. After an hours-long ordeal, Mr. Ortega was released.
Manuel Nieto & Velia Meraz
In March 2008, Manuel Nieto and Velia Meraz, who are brother and sister, were stopped during a sweep in North Phoenix after they had witnessed the MCSO detaining two Latino men at a gas station. After pulling into the gas station, the MCSO deputy ordered Ms. Meraz and Mr. Nieto to leave. They left the gas station, but were subsequently pulled over by MCSO deputies in front of their family business at gunpoint. While Mr. Nieto called 911, MCSO deputies pulled him out of his car and threw him against it. Family members who were present at the time informed the officers that both Mr. Nieto and Ms. Meraz are U.S. citizens. MCSO ran Mr. Nieto’s identification and then released both of them without a citation or any apology.
David and Jessika Rodriguez
David and Jessika Rodriguez, along with their two young children, were off-roading near Lake Bartlett in December 2007. As they were leaving the preserve, they were stopped and ticketed by MCSO for driving on a closed road. But several other drivers who were not Latino and driving on the same stretch of the road were allowed to leave with only a warning. During the stop, the MCSO deputy demanded to see Mr. Rodriguez’s Social Security card even though he had produced his Arizona driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Mr. Rodriguez eventually relented and provided the deputy with his Social Security number so that he and his family could leave in peace. As the Rodriguezes drove to the exit of the preserve, they were able to stop and speak with other drivers and confirm that not one of them had been given a citation. The Rodriguezes were treated unfairly because they are Latino. The Rodriguezes are U.S. citizens.
Dr. Ralph Taylor, a criminal justice expert, author, researcher and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, is an expert witness who has analyzed racial and ethnic patterns in traffic stops made by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. His findings support the plaintiffs’ claims that MCSO is engaged in a pattern of racial profiling and unlawful detention.
Taylor’s statistical analysis shows that during Sheriffs Arpaio’s “crime suppression sweeps,” or saturation patrols, Latinos were stopped at higher rates in comparison to non-saturation patrol days. Some of those findings include:
• MCSO officers were significantly more likely to stop Latino persons on saturation patrol days in comparison to days when such operations were not taking place.
• MCSO officers assigned to work saturation patrol operations were 46% to 53.7% more likely to stop Latino persons than officers not involved in the saturation patrol on those days
• The length of time MCSO officers took to complete a traffic stop was about 21% to 25% longer when at least one of the persons stopped was Latino.
• Dr. Taylor’s analysis was shown to be highly statistically significant, meaning that the chances of obtaining the results by chance would be less than one in a thousand.
Evidence of Racial Discrimination
Plaintiffs will be submitting hundreds of pages of evidence that show that the Sheriff acted on racially charged citizen complaints and requests for operations that he forwarded to his senior staff. These complaints criticized people based on little more than the color of their skin or the fact that they were speaking Spanish. In addition, Sheriff’s deputies regularly circulated racially charged emails about Latinos. These and other actions created an agency culture that encouraged discrimination and permitted racial bias to flourish.
Read some of the discriminatory emails sent to Sheriff Arpaio:
• “If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin! Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegal who are here ILLEGALLY […] They bring their unclean, disrespectful, integrity-less, law breaking selves here […] I am begging you to come over to the 29thSt/Greenway Pkwy area and round them all up!...They crawl around here all day and night.” Constituent letter, June 19, 2008
• “There was not an employee in sight, or within hearing, who spoke English as a first language—to my dismay. You might want to check this out.” Constituent letter, August 1, 2008
• “DO THE MESA, AZ SWEEP!!! IT NEEDS IT TERRIBYLY!!! The Mesa, AZ police chief drags his feet… add the fact that the head of Mesa’s police union is a Hispanic.” “Sheriff Joe… SWEEP MESA, SWEEP CHANDLER, SWEEP S.E. CHANDLER, SWEEP GUADALUPE (again), SWEEP CAVE CREEK (and the church HIDING THEM), SWEEP EVERYWHERE!!!” Constituent letter, May 24, 2008
Department of Justice Lawsuit
In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against MCSO claiming discriminatory law enforcement actions against Latinos who are frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin; discriminatory jail practices against Latino inmates with limited English skills; and illegal retaliation against their perceived critics.
For more information about the Department of Justice’s case: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/May/12-crt-602.html
For more information visit the ACLU of Arizona’s Immigrants’ Rights page: http://acluaz.org/issues/immigrant-rights