Feds pick legal fight with Sheriff Arpaio
The Justice Department, which first targeted Sheriff Joe Arpaio four years ago over his handling of illegal immigrants arrested in the Phoenix area, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Thursday accusing the sheriff and his office of “unconstitutional and unlawful actions” against Hispanics.
The complaint, which says the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Arpaio abuse Hispanic inmates and engage in ethnic profiling, produced a flurry of charges and countercharges Thursday, in which the sheriff accused federal bureaucrats of trying to usurp his power as an elected official and the top Democrat in Congress applauded the lawsuit.
The lawsuit against America’s self-described “toughest sheriff” comes in the wake of a breakdown of negotiations between the department and the sheriff's office over the appointment of a court monitor, who would have overseen the office’s handling of those it arrests and detains, and direct operations regarding its enforcement programs and actions.
A “notice of intent to file civil action” came Wednesday from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in a letter. It is only the second time in the past 18 years that the department has resorted to a lawsuit after a settlement effort failed.
“I would rather fix the problem than debate the existence of a problem,” Mr. Perez said during a Phoenix news conference.
Sheriff Arpaio said a series of meetings between representatives of his office and the Justice Department were scheduled to continue this week to discuss ways to resolve accusations of racial profiling by his office.
But, the sheriff said, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, a top litigator in the department’s Civil Rights Division, instead issued an ultimatum: It was absolutely mandatory for the sheriff's office to agree to an outside monitor; otherwise, there was no reason for further meetings.
The sheriff told The Washington Times in an interview that the appointment of an outside monitor “essentially usurps the powers and duties of an elected sheriff” and transfers them to the federal government.
“Every policy decision, every operation, every new program in the jails and in enforcement, virtually everything would have to be approved by the monitor, nullifying the authority of the elected sheriff and eviscerating the will of the citizens of Maricopa County,” he said.
“I am the constitutionally and legitimately elected sheriff, and I absolutely refuse to surrender my responsibility to the federal government,” he said. “And so to the Obama administration, who is attempting to strong-arm me into submission only for its political gain, I say, ‘This will not happen, not on my watch.’”
“I am not going to surrender my office to the federal government,” he said. “I will fight this to the bitter end.”
The sheriff’s attorney, Jack MacIntyre, called the appointment of a federal monitor the “most extreme proposal,” particularly since the federal government has refused to provide any details or proof as to how it came to the conclusion that sheriff’s office employees engage in patterns and practices of racial profiling.
“We have never agreed to a monitor replacing the duly elected sheriff,” he said. “We have always been open to negotiating these issues raised by the DOJ, but never the appointment of a monitor.”
The Justice Department has maintained that the sheriff's office “negotiated in bad faith” and, as a result, put the settlement talks in jeopardy. Mr. Austin told Mr. MacIntyre in a letter Tuesday that the sheriff’s precondition of not having a court-appointed monitor to help enforce an agreement to settle the civil rights accusations would result in the cancellation of negotiations.
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