Sheriff Joe Arpaio slammed with a federal investigation

Michael Santo's picture

Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing a U.S. Justice Department report which accuses the sheriff’s office of a blatant pattern of discrimination against Latinos.

The federal government has found that Arpaio’s office committed a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos, including unjust immigration patrols and jail policies that deprive prisoners of basic constitutional rights.

Even the Justice Department’s expert on racial profiling has called the case one of the most egregious cases of the abuse of power he has ever seen or read about in professional literature. Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, said that "We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, a culture that breeds a systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections."

The report will force Arpaio to make major overhauls of department policies regarding discriminatory practices. It will also require the re-training of staff and officers. Arpaio faces a January 4th deadline for agreeing to work out an agreement to make the changes. If he does not comply, he faces a lawsuit by the feds, with wide-reaching consequences, primarily in the form of withheld federal dollars to Maricopa County.

Already the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has severed ties with Arpaio, which will effectively strip his jail officers of their federal power to check whether inmates in county jails are in the county illegally. DHS is also restricting Arpaio's office from using a program that uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants.

All of which will make enforcing SB 1070 that much harder to implement. The Arizona legislative act is the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history and had brought the state national and international attention. Its most controversial provisions have been blocked in federal court, and now its most dogged supporter is having his hands tied.

Arpaio remains defiant in the face of the allegations against his office. He says it is a politically motivated attack by the Obama Administration which will make Arizona unsafe by allowing vagrant illegal immigrants on the streets.

"Don't come here and use me as the whipping boy for a national and international problem," he said at a news conference. Arpaio denies the allegations and said that people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of them are illegal immigrants. He said this is a “sad day for America.” He added that the DHS decision to sever ties with his office will result in large numbers of illegals being released from prison. They will be "dumped on a street near you. For that, you can thank the federal government," the sheriff said.

This is the harshest reprimand yet of the sheriff, who has become a prominent political fixture in his dogged pursuit and punishment tactics against both illegal immigrants and homegrown offenders. Some of these tactics include the re-institution of chain gangs, requiring inmates to wear pink underwear, and having inmates sleep in tents – in 100-plus degree conditions. Despite these draconian tactics, the sheriff has enjoyed considerable popularity, not just among his constituents, who have re-elected him continuously since 1992, but also among his inmates, who respect his harsh-but-fair rule.


Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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