Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Trial – The American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Step in to Assist
The Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, known for his open and verbally forward opinions on illegal immigration, reportedly had an unusually quiet demeanor while he was questioned on the stand. Priding himself as a tough-talking lawman and the man who instigated chain gangs and pink underwear in the jail system, Sheriff Arpaio claims his unnatural behavior was due to catching the flu.
There are several reports of Sheriff Arpaio boldly and explicitly making public comments that arguably show his focus on flushing out illegal immigrants. One comment made by Sheriff Arpaio was to Glenn Beck approximately two years ago when he explained to Glenn how his deputies determine whom to target for an arrest. He reportedly stated his officer’s look to, “[t]heir speech and what they look like–if they just look like they just came from another country.”
The facts of the case remain that Sheriff Arpaio has officers perform regular sweeps or patrols in the Latino community in Phoenix. In the process, the patrolling officers perform many traffic stops, giving citations and making arrests. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund assisted plaintiffs with a suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing him and the Maricopa County police officers of systematically profiling Latinos. They claim the officers pulled over Latinos during traffic stops without probable cause, based solely on the driver and/or passengers being Latino. On the stand, Arpaio maintained that, “we don’t arrest people because of the color of their skin.”
Even with these strong public statements, in order to win, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund must prove the sheriff’s office “systematically profiled Latinos, targeting them for traffic stops.” Given the wide variety of reasons for a traffic stop, this may prove difficult. The evidence presented has involved mostly tearful personal stories, statistics to show patterns of targeted profiling, and some insulting letters directed against Latinos. One witness (Lorena Escamilla) testified that she was pulled over because an officer claims he thought she had guns and drugs in her car, which officers discovered she in fact did not. Escamilla testified that when she refused to remain in her hot car, the officer slammed her up against the car, stomach-first. She was five months pregnant at the time.
Those who support Sheriff Arpaio argue that this lawsuit lacks evidence, and is merely a response to the Supreme Court Ruling on SB1070. They argue that the reason for the suit is merely an attempt to broadly limit the authority of police officers out of fear of the new power granted to police officers that allows them to detain individuals and demand immigration documents. Whether there is enough evidence for a victory for the plaintiffs or not, if police officers are allowed to perform these systematic sweeps, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argue the door will be left wide open for abuse, specifically with racial profiling.
A lawsuit fairly similar to this one has been brought by the Justice Department and is pending in federal court. However this was the first time the sheriff’s office had to defend itself in the courtroom against a racial profiling charge. Although there is no jail time or money at stake, if the American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are successful, the sheriff’s office will be forced to make some policy changes, altering the way they have been previously running things. Until this issue is resolved, the patrols that were regularly performed in the Latino community have been suspended.
Written By Brent Gunderson
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