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Arpaio Lawyers Reject Racial Profiling Claims in Closings

Lawyers for Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County said in closing trial arguments that the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit failed to prove his department engaged in racial profiling of Latinos.

The closing arguments were filed yesterday following a seven-day trial in federal court in Phoenix that was heard without a jury and ended Aug. 2. Arpaio’s attorneys said there was “no evidence of discriminatory intent” in any of the traffic stops highlighted in trial testimony.

The Arpaio deputy who stopped the vehicle in which the lead plaintiff, Ortega Melendres, was riding “did not know or see the race of the passengers” and stopped the vehicle “solely on probable cause that it was speeding,” according to the filing by attorneys Timothy J. Casey, James L. Williams and Thomas P. Liddy.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Latinos who, since January 2007, have been stopped, detained, questioned or searched by sheriff’s office agents in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The five named plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that deputies discriminate against Latino residents, particularly in traffic stops. The civil rights case is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

‘Racial Profiling’

The claim of Maricopa County sergeants, when presented with lists that showed the large majority of individuals they arrested had Hispanic names, that there was no racial profiling is nonsensical, according to closing arguments filed by the plaintiffs.

“Charging a person under a ‘race neutral’ criminal statute does not demonstrate the absence of racial profiling, and the racially skewed arrest lists should have triggered the need for further investigations,” according to the filing.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Stanley Young, Andrew Byrnes and Daniel Pochoda argued that the sheriff’s office, led by Arpaio, has policies and practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment and “has an admitted policy of relying on race when forming reasonable suspicion of immigration violation during traffic stops.”

Young also argued that the sheriff’s office “has a policy and practice of initiating saturation patrols and selectively enforcing traffic laws based on race.”

While the defense had argued that sherrif deputies had made traffic stops based on probable cause, like a cracked windshield, plaintiffs argued that in many stops, “deputies could not possibly have observed the traffic violations that were asserted” until “after the stops were made.”

The case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 07-02513, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

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