Judge rules against 'America's toughest sheriff' in racial profiling lawsuit
by Tim Gaynor and David Schwartz
PHOENIX -- (Reuters) -- Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers in his crackdown on illegal immigration, a federal judge found on Friday, and ordered him to stop using race as a factor in law enforcement decisions.
The ruling against the Maricopa County sheriff came in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by Hispanic drivers that tested whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.
U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that the sheriff's policies violated the drivers' constitutional rights and ordered Arpaio's office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles - some of them in crime sweeps dubbed "saturation patrols."
"The great weight of the evidence is that all types of saturation patrols at issue in this case incorporated race as a consideration into their operations," Snow said in a written ruling.
He added that race had factored into which vehicles the deputies decided to stop, and into who they decided to investigate for immigration violations.
The lawsuit contended that Arpaio, who styles himself "America's toughest sheriff," and his officers violated the constitutional rights of both U.S. citizens and legal immigrants alike in their zeal to crack down on people they believe to be in the country illegally.
The ruling came days after a U.S. Senate panel approved a landmark comprehensive immigration legislation that would usher in the biggest changes in immigration policy in a generation if passed by Congress.
The bill would put 11 million immigrants without legal status on a 13-year path to citizenship while further strengthening security along the porous southwestern border with Mexico.
Arpaio declined to comment on the ruling. An attorney representing the sheriff's office said his clients were "deeply disappointed by the ruling" and would lodge an appeal.
"The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has always held the position that they never have used race and never will use race in making a law enforcement decision," attorney Tim Casey told Reuters.
"We do disagree with the findings and my clients do intend to appeal, but at the same time ... we will work with the court and with the opposing counsel to comply fully with the letter and the spirit of this order," he added.
'ILLEGAL AND PLAIN UN-AMERICAN'
Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and plaintiffs' counsel, called the judge's ruling "an important victory that will resound far beyond Maricopa County."
"Singling people out for traffic stops and detentions simply because they're Latino is illegal and just plain un-American," Wang said after the ruling was made public.
"Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people's rights in immigration enforcement."
During testimony in the non-jury trial last year, Arpaio said he was against racial profiling and denied his office arrested people because of the color of their skin.
The sheriff, who won re-election to a sixth term in November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the state, which borders Mexico, as well as an investigation into the validity of President Barack Obama's U.S. birth certificate.
The lawsuit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf of five Hispanic drivers who said they had been stopped by deputies because of their ethnicity.
The plaintiffs, which include the Somos America immigrants' rights coalition and all Latino drivers stopped by the sheriff's office since 2007, were seeking corrective action but not monetary damages.
Arpaio has been the subject of other probes and lawsuits. In August, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona said it had closed a criminal investigation into accusations of financial misconduct by Arpaio, and it declined to bring charges.
A separate U.S. Justice Department investigation and lawsuit relating to accusations of civil rights abuses by Arpaio's office is ongoing.
Arizona has been at the heart of a bitter national debate over immigration since Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed a 2010 crackdown on illegal immigration.
The federal government challenged the crackdown in court and said the U.S. Constitution gives it sole authority over immigration policy. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has allowed to stand the part of the law permitting police to question people they stop about their immigration status.
Snow scheduled a hearing in the case for June 14 at 9:30 a.m. at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Federal Courthouse in Phoenix.
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to appeal ruling in racial profiling case
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will appeal a federal judge's ruling that his agency systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.
Tim Casey, the lead attorney representing America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in the case, said an appeal of the finding that the agency racially profiles people was planned in the next 30 days.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs up years of allegations from Arpaio's critics who say his officers violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in relying on race in their immigration enforcement.
Snow, whose ruling came more than eight months after a seven-day, non-jury trial, also ruled Arpaio's deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
The ruling marks a thorough repudiation of the immigration patrols that made Arpaio a national political figure, and it represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit.
"For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he's meant to serve with his discriminatory policy," said Cecillia D. Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Right Project. "Today we're seeing justice for everyone in the county."
Monetary damages weren't sought in the lawsuit but rather a declaration that Arpaio's office engages in racial profiling and an order that requires it to make policy changes.
Stanley Young, the lead lawyer who argued the case against Arpaio, said Snow set a hearing for June 14 where he will hear from the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are carried out.
The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, won't face jail time as a result of Friday's ruling.
Casey said that MCSO's position "is that it has never used race and will never use race in its law-enforcement decisions." He added the sheriff's office relied on "bad training" from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"The decision here really affects some poor training from ICE and unfortunately we relied on ICE, acted on ICE, and now it turns out ICE was incorrect," Casey told MyFoxPhoenix.com.
In the meantime, Casey said the agency "will meet with the court and comply with the letter and spirit of the order."
A small group of Latinos alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio's deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the sheriff's office from discriminatory policing and the judge ruled that more remedies could be ordered in the future.
The group also accused the sheriff of ordering some immigration patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters and emails from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish. The group's attorneys noted Arpaio sent thank-you notes to some who wrote the complaints.
The sheriff said his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn't the person who picked the location of the patrols. His lawyers said there was nothing wrong with the thank-you notes.
Young, the group's lawyer, said he was still reading the decision Friday but noted it contained "very detailed findings of discriminatory intent and effect."
A call to ICE officials in Phoenix for comment wasn't immediately returned Friday evening.
Arpaio, who turns 81 next month, was elected in November to his sixth consecutive term as sheriff in Arizona's most populous county.
Known for jailing inmates in tents and making prisoners wear pink underwear, Arpaio started doing immigration enforcement in 2006 amid Arizona voter frustration with the state's role as the nation's busiest illegal entryway.
Snow wrote that "in the absence of further facts that would give rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a violation of either federal criminal law or applicable state law is occurring," Arpaio's office now is enjoined from enforcing its policy "on checking the immigration status of people detained without state charges, using Hispanic ancestry or race as any factor in making law enforcement decisions pertaining to whether a person is authorized to be in the country, and unconstitutionally lengthening stops."
Snow added "the evidence introduced at trial establishes that, in the past, the MCSO has aggressively protected its right to engage in immigration and immigration-related enforcement operations even when it had no accurate legal basis for doing so."
The trial that ended Aug. 2 focused on Latinos who were stopped during both routine traffic patrols and special immigration patrols known as "sweeps."
During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city -- in some cases, heavily Latino areas -- over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Immigrants who were in the country illegally accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio's office.
At trial, plaintiffs' lawyers drew testimony from witnesses who broke down in tears as they described encounters with authorities, saying they were pulled over because they were Hispanic and officers wanted to check their immigration status, not because they had committed an infraction. The sheriff's attorneys disputed such characterizations, typically working to show that officers had probable cause to stop the drivers based on a traffic violation.
Plaintiffs' lawyers also presented statistics to show Latinos are more likely to be stopped on days of immigration patrols and showed emails containing offensive jokes about people of Mexican heritage that were circulated among sheriff's department employees, including a supervisor in Arpaio's immigrant smuggling squad.
Defense lawyers disputed the statistical findings and said officers who circulated offensive jokes were disciplined. They also denied the complaint letters prompted patrols with a discriminatory motive.
The ruling used Arpaio's own words in interviews, news conferences and press releases against him as he trumpeted his efforts in cracking down on immigrants. When it came to making traffic stops, Arpaio said in 2007 that deputies are not bound by state laws in finding a reason to stop immigrants.
"Ours is an operation, whether it's the state law or the federal, to go after illegals, not the crime first, that they happen to be illegals," the ruling quoted Arpaio as saying. "My program, my philosophy is a pure program. You go after illegals. I'm not afraid to say that. And you go after them and you lock them up."
Some immigrant traffic stops were made "purely on the observation of the undercover officers that the vehicles had picked up Hispanic day laborers from sites where Latino day laborers were known to gather," the ruling said.
The judge also said the sheriff's office declared on many occasions that racial profiling is strictly prohibited and not tolerated, while witnesses said it was appropriate to consider race as a factor in rounding up immigrants.
"This is a blow to" the sheriff's office, said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studied racial profiling and wrote a book on the subject.
Arpaio's lawyers will have "an uphill climb" in the appeals process because of all "the gross statistical evidence," he said.
Foley Police to host ‘Coffee with a Cop'
FOLEY — On Thursday, officers from Foley Police Department and community members will come together in an informal, neutral space to discuss community issues, build relationships and drink coffee at “Coffee with a Cop.”
All community members are invited to attend. The event begins at 10 a.m. Thursday at Cracker Barrel in Foley.
“Coffee with a Cop” provides a unique opportunity for community members to ask questions and learn more about the department's work in Foley's neighborhoods.
The majority of contacts law enforcement has with the public happen during emergencies or emotional situations. Those situations are not always the most effective times for relationship-building with the community, and some community members may feel that officers are unapproachable on the street. “Coffee with a Cop” breaks down barriers and allows for a relaxed, one-on-one interaction.
“We hope the community members feel comfortable to ask questions, bring concerns or simply get to know our officers,” Foley Police Chief David Wilson said. “These interactions are the foundation of community partnerships.”
“Coffee with a Cop” is a national initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services. Similar events are being held across the country as local police departments strive to make lasting connections with the communities they serve. The program aims to advance the practice of community policing through improving relationships between police officers and community members one cup of coffee at a time.
Lakewood Police Fair will take place June 7
by Joe Noga
The Lakewood Police Department's neighborhood officers will be hosting a police fair from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 at the Woman's Club Pavilion in Lakewood Park, 14532 Lake Avenue.
The event will highlight several of the department's units, and their roles in the community.
Mayor Mike Summers said recent events including the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the recovery of three kidnapping victims in Cleveland underscore the importantce of citizens working closely with public safety forces.
“In Lakewood, we place great emphasis on our community policing strategy," Summers said. "This strategy is focused on working with citizens to leverage each other's role in making our neighborhoods safe. This Safety Fair is one of many important elements of our community policing strategy.”
Equipment will be on display and members of the bomb squad, K-9 unit and SWAT will be available to speak with residents.
Bike safety inspections and free bike licensing will also be available.
Parents with children ages 3-14 can have a Missing Child ID Card made free of charge.
Officers will also provide information on home security, the block watch and police auxiliary programs.
This family-oriented event will also include interactive exercises for distracted driving and traffic safety.