Global Politics

Justice Department accuses Joe Arpaio's sheriff's department of pervasive racial profiling

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right, appears with Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, at a press conference in front of Chase Field in Sept. 2010. Both are outspoken critics of illegal immigration. (Photo by Phoenician Patriot via Wikimedia Common

Joe Arpaio, the controversial Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff, is being taken to task by the federal justice department.

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They accuse his office of having a system of discriminatory treatment of Latinos and a practice of disregarding constitutional protections. They say this culture pervades the department all the way to the top, and it's taking actions to fix that.

“We have peeled the onion to its core,” said Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, to The New York Times, noting that more than 400 inmates, deputies and others had been interviewed.

For starters, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has suspended the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's access to its immigration database, preventing officers from determining whether those arrested for minor infractions should also be deported. Illegal immigration has been a prime target of Arpaio's, though federal officials say it's also been an area where his department has greatly disregarded the law.

The next step will be for Arpaio to reach a court-approved settlement agreement with the federal government. If he does not, a federal lawsuit will follow, which could cost his county millions of dollars in federal aid.

Paul Atkinson, a reporter for KZZ in Tempe, Ariz., said Latinos were four to nine times more likely to be pulled over in Maricopa County than a non-Latino, according to the federal government report.

"The experts said it was the most egregious example of racial profiling anywhere in the United States," Atkinson said.

The federal government also faulted the department for retaliating against critics, particularly immigrants rights group that criticized Arpaio and his department.

"One gentleman was arrested a couple of times with no charges ever filed," Atkinson said.

Lastly, Latinos who were in jail were denied opportunities or services merely for being unable to speak English. The report highlighted one example where an inmate was not allowed new bedding because she couldn't say, in English, that her sheets were soiled. She'd tried to use another inmate to translate for her.

For his part, Arpaio brushed off the Justice Department report as a politically motivated attack against him.

“This is a sad day for America as a whole,” Arpaio said in the Times, suggesting that the federal government’s action was tantamount to setting up a neon welcome sign for illegal immigrants. “We are proud of the work we have done to fight illegal immigration.”

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