- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had patrol vehicles quietly keep watch Sunday outside African-American churches, despite their objections because of his history of racial profiling allegations.

Arpaio announced plans late last week to have a law enforcement presence at churches throughout the county in response to the shooting at a historic black church in South Carolina, where a white gunman is accused of killing nine people. A county sheriff’s vehicle was seen about once an hour driving around the perimeter of some downtown Phoenix churches as members began arriving for morning services. But no law enforcement officers ever entered the property, according to private church security workers.

Pastor Warren Stewart, Jr., who leads Church of the Remnant in south Phoenix, said he was never approached by Arpaio’s office about security. But if he had been, he would have rejected any offer.

“If I needed security, I would call on the city of Phoenix police because I have a relationship with them,” Stewart said. “I would call people I have a relationship with and not someone on trial for racial profiling.”

Arpaio is facing the toughest legal battles in his 22-year tenure. His office remains under the supervision of a federal judge who concluded two years ago that the agency had systemically racially profiled Latinos in its regular traffic and immigration patrols. He’s also scheduled to go to trial in August in a separate lawsuit that accuses his office of punishing Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish and discriminating against Latinos in business raids aimed at cracking down on identity theft.

Arpaio, who has vigorously denied the civil rights allegations in both cases, said providing protection at the churches is part of his duties as the county’s top law enforcer.

“This is very important to me, and I’m going to do it,” Arpaio said last week. “I am the elected sheriff of this county.”

The Rev. Jarrett Maupin said he prompted Arpaio’s plan to send protection to roughly 60 churches in the county. A local activist, Maupin said he was concerned that the Charleston shooting could prompt white supremacists to try to harm black people. The controversy over Arpaio’s now-shuttered immigration enforcement crackdowns is irrelevant to the issue, according to Maupin.

The Rev. Reginald Walton, the pastor at Phillips Memorial CME Church, called their joint protection effort “opportunistic.”

“How long is the sheriff offering this protection? I don’t feel that this was necessary. I don’t feel that it was genuine. I’m wondering how long this is going to last,” Walton said.

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