The Justice Department, which first targeted Sheriff Joe Arpaio four years ago in his suspected mishandling of illegal immigrants arrested in the Phoenix area, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Thursday accusing the sheriff and his office using “unconstitutional and unlawful actions” in their handling of Hispanics.
• Discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos who are frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color or national origin;
• Discriminatory jail practices against Latino inmates with limited English skills;
• Illegal retaliation against their perceived critics, subjecting them to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits or meritless administrative actions.
The lawsuit 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 oversee 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.
Sheriff Arpaio said a series of meetings between representatives of his office and the Justice Department were scheduled to begin this week to discuss ways to resolve allegations of racial profiling by his office, but Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, a top litigator in the department’s Civil Rights Division, issued an ultimatum instead: 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 said the appointment of an outside monitor “essentially usurps the powers and duties of an elected sheriff” and transfers them to a person or group of persons selected by 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.’”
The sheriff’s attorney, Jack MacIntyre, called a federal monitor the “most extreme proposal,” particularly in light of the fact that the federal government has refused to provide any details or proof as to how it came to the conclusion that Maricopa County 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. It told Mr. MacIntyre in a letter Tuesday the sheriff’s precondition of not having a court-appointed monitor to help enforce an agreement to settle the civil rights allegations would result in the cancellation of negotiations.
“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.”