Arizona Sheriff Arpaio’s Racial Profiling Trial Ends
The federal civil rights trial against Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio ended as the judge sought more information on arrest records before he decides whether the sheriff’s office engaged in racial profiling of Latinos.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow in Phoenix, who presided over the trial without a jury, also told lawyers yesterday he needs more data on the operation plans for the sheriff’s so- called saturation patrols in which his deputies are accused of making racially motivated traffic stops.
Snow said that after lawyers submit their final written arguments by Aug. 9 and rebuttal arguments a week later, he will consider both the policies of the sheriff’s office and “what the practices are, regardless of the policies.”
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of all Latinos who, since January 2007, have been stopped, detained, questioned or searched by sheriff office’s agents in Maricopa County. The civil rights case is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The class-action lawsuit includes allegations similar to those made by the U.S. Justice Department in a suit filed in May against Arpaio, his office and the county. In its case, the U.S. accuses Arpaio of “intentionally and systematically” discriminating against Latinos.
The plaintiffs seek a court ruling that their constitutional rights were violated, including their right to equal protection under the law and their right not to be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. They want the judge to order changes in the sheriff’s office and to appoint a monitor to oversee compliance.
Snow hasn’t said when he will issue a ruling.
The five named plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that deputies discriminate against Latino residents, particularly in traffic stops.
David Rodriguez, of Mesa, Arizona, testified July 19 that in December 2007, while “four-wheeling” with his family on a dirt road near Bartlett Dam, he inadvertently drove onto a closed road, as did several other vehicles.
Rodriguez said he was cited by a deputy, while the other drivers, all of whom Rodriguez described as white, weren’t cited. Rodriguez said he believed he was cited because he is Hispanic.
The judge also heard from two Maricopa County deputies who denied ever racially profiling Latinos. They said they were told to ignore the ethnicity of drivers when making traffic stops.
‘Never a Basis’
“We were told that race was never a basis for making a traffic stop,” Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz said.
Douglas Beeks, a former deputy, said he had learned in training, “If I see a Hispanic male driving down the road I do not isolate him from other vehicles.”
Dan Pochoda, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona, said in an Aug. 1 interview that while evidence from several witnesses was circumstantial, “We think it all adds up.”
“The Supreme Court has said any evidence that has probative value toward proving a pattern and practice of racial profiling” can be considered by the court, Pochoda said.
Tom Liddy, a lawyer for Arpaio, said in an Aug. 1 interview that the plaintiffs, “have not presented one single piece of evidence of a single incident of racial profiling.”
“It is becoming abundantly clear how difficult it is to connect the dots when there are no dots,” Liddy said.
Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” testified that his department doesn’t arrest people “because of the color of their skin.”
While many deputies had undergone training regarding racial profiling, according to trial witnesses, Arpaio testified that he hadn’t gone through the training.
That testimony, according to county supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a longtime political foe of Arpaio, “was very telling.” Wilcox attended the trial daily.
“What we have seen depicted in this trial is a law agency that has no real direction and often doesn’t operate in a professional manner, like most law enforcement agencies do,” Wilcox said. “The rank and file goes through immigration traffic stop training but that the leadership of MCSO didn’t. That says it.”
Bennie Click, a former Phoenix executive assistant police chief and former Dallas police chief hired by the defense as an expert witness, testified that Maricopa County’s training “far exceeds” the standards set for Arizona’s law enforcement agencies.
Click said that training strongly enforced the principle that “officers will protect people’s constitutional rights.”
Pochoda asked Click yesterday during cross-examination whether sheriff’s deputies had strong reasons not to engage in racial profiling.
“It is against policy, it can get you fired, you can go to prison,” Click said. “To go to prison or lose your job is a major disincentive to racially profile.”
The case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 07-02513, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
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