- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2011

PHOENIX (AP) — The federal government issued a scathing report Thursday that outlines how Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office committed a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos, including a pattern of racial profiling and discrimination and carrying out heavy-handed immigration patrols based on racially charged citizen complaints.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press ahead of its release, is a result of the U.S. Justice Department’s three-year investigation of Sheriff Arpaio’s office amid complaints of racial profiling and a culture of bias at the office’s top level.

The Justice Department’s conclusions in the civil probe mark the federal government’s harshest rebuke of a national political fixture who has risen to prominence for his immigration crackdowns and became a coveted endorsement among candidates in the Republican presidential field.

Apart from the civil rights probe, a federal grand jury also has been investigating Sheriff Arpaio’s office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009 and specifically is examining the investigative work of the sheriff’s anti-public-corruption squad.

The civil rights report said federal authorities will continue to investigate complaints of deputies using excessive force against Latinos, whether the sheriff’s immigration efforts damage trust with the Hispanic community, and a large number of sex-crimes cases that were assigned to the agency but weren’t followed up on or investigated at all.

The report took the sheriff’s office to task for launching immigration patrols, known as “sweeps,” based on complaints that Latinos merely were gathering near a business without committing crimes. Federal authorities singled out Sheriff Arpaio himself and said his office, known as MCSO, has no clear policies to guard against the violations, even after he changed some of his top aides earlier this year.

Arpaio’s own actions have helped nurture MCSO’s culture of bias,” wrote Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, adding that the sheriff frequently gave such racially charged letters to some of his top aides and saved them in his own files.

“MCSO is broken in a number of critical respects. The problems are deeply rooted in MCSO’s culture,” he said Thursday.

If the sheriff’s office doesn’t turn around its policies and practices, the federal government could pull millions of dollars of federal funding.

Sheriff Arpaio’s office did not immediately respond to AP requests for comment.

The report will require Sheriff Arpaio to set up effective policies against discrimination, improve training and make other changes that would be monitored for compliance by a judge. Sheriff Arpaio faces a Jan. 4 deadline for saying whether he wants to work out an agreement. If not, the federal government will sue him and let a judge decide the complaint.

Sheriff Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, long has denied the racial profiling allegation, saying 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.

Sheriff Arpaio has built his reputation on jailing inmates in tents and dressing them in pink underwear, selling himself to voters as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration.

The report also said he and some top staffers tried to silence people who have spoken out against the sheriff’s office by arresting people without cause, filing meritless lawsuits against opponents and starting investigations of critics.

One example cited by the Justice Department is former top Arpaio aide David Hendershott, who filed bar complaints against lawyers critical of the agency along with bringing judicial complaints against judges who were at odds with the sheriff. All complaints were dismissed.

Story Continues →