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“We believe you are wasting time and not negotiating in good faith,” wrote Mr. Austin, questioning whether the sheriff's office was ever interested in settling the matter. “Your tactics have required DOJ to squander valuable time and resources.”

The lawsuit charges the Phoenix-area department with:

• Discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Hispanics who are frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color or national origin.

• Discriminatory jail practices against Hispanic inmates with limited English skills.

• Illegal retaliation against their perceived critics, subjecting them to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits or meritless administrative actions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, commended the Obama administration for its decision to file a lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio, saying the sheriff has been “operating outside of our nation’s laws.” He said police are supposed to “protect and serve our communities, not divide them or judge them.”

“No one should face discrimination based on the color of their skin, their accent or any other similar characteristics,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the Justice Department lawsuit took “an important step toward ending the rampant racial profiling and illegal stops by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.”

Cecillia Wang, the ACLU’s director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the lawsuit added momentum to a pending ACLU lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio scheduled for trial in July. That suit says the sheriff's office “systematically violated the rights of Latino residents of Maricopa County in the name of immigration enforcement.”

According to the Justice Department complaint, since 2006, the sheriff's office and Sheriff Arpaio have intentionally and systematically discriminated against Hispanics by stopping them in their vehicles four to nine times more often than similarly situated non-Hispanic drivers.

In addition, it said, the sheriff's office stops Hispanics without the required legal justification; detains and searches them on roads, in their homes and in their workplaces without legal justification; mistreats Hispanic detainees with limited English skills; and punishes detainees if they fail to understand orders given in English.

It said the sheriff's office also files baseless administrative cases, civil actions and criminal cases against its perceived critics in “an attempt to chill free speech.”

The sheriff's office “promotes and is indifferent to the discriminatory conduct of its law enforcement officers, as is demonstrated by inadequate policies, ineffective training, virtually nonexistent accountability measures, poor supervision, scant data-collection mechanisms, distorted enforcement prioritization [and] an ineffective complaint and disciplinary system,” the complaint said.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that the conduct is the product of “a culture of disregard for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization.” It said sheriff’s office employees frequently use derogatory terms to refer to Hispanics, and Sheriff Arpaio and his supervisors, “through their words and actions, set the tone and create a culture of bias that contributes to unlawful actions.”

In the complaint, the Justice Department seeks declaratory and injunctive relief that would ensure that the sheriff's office implements policies and procedures to prevent the pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct identified in it.

“No one in Maricopa County is above the law, and the department will fight to ensure that the promise of the Constitution is realized by everyone in Maricopa County,” Mr. Perez said.

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