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"Joe's Law" Gets the Boot: A Lawyer for the Plaintiffs Explains

Andre Segura,
Legal Director,
ACLU of Texas
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May 30, 2013

Plaintiffs have established that the MCSO had sufficient intent to discriminate against Latino occupants of motor vehicles. Further, the Court concludes that the MCSO had and continues to have a facially discriminatory policy of considering Hispanic appearance probative of whether a person is legally present in the country in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The MCSO is thus permanently enjoined from using race, or allowing its deputies and other agents to use race as a criteria in making law enforcement decisions with respect to Latino occupants of vehicles in Maricopa County.

These findings—taken from a federal district court’s 142-page decision issued May 24—represent a monumental victory for the people of Maricopa County who have fought for years against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s and his deputies’ oppressive regime. For the first time, a court has found what the community had long been protesting—that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has a pervasive history of racially profiling Latinos and has continued to engage in that conduct.

Sheriff Arpaio considered himself to be above the law, able to do as he pleased. In his book, Joe’s Law, Sheriff Arpaio talks about what he perceived as “threats” to American values and touts his iron-fisted approach to law enforcement. Unfortunately, Joe’s Law did not include respect for the most American of values, our Constitution. It took a federal court to order the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” to stop violating the rights of Maricopa residents.

In his decision, the federal court judge went to great lengths detailing the biased attitudes that permeate every level of MCSO—from Sheriff Arpaio himself to his lieutenants and deputies out on patrol. During our three-week trial, MCSO witnesses of all ranks admitted that they use race as a factor in determining who to investigate for being in the country without lawful status. Sergeants were confronted with emails they had sent to their own deputies containing racist jokes denigrating Mexicans and Spanish-speakers. This conduct was never corrected, but instead reinforced by Sheriff Arpaio during his numerous media interviews. Sheriff Arpaio boasted that a factor in evaluating whether someone is in the country legally is whether “they look like they came from another country” or “look like they just came from Mexico.” The court also determined that many of the operations conducted by MCSO were placed in locations suggested to Sheriff Arpaio in racist calls, emails and letters about Mexicans from local residents. For example, one caller asked the police department why “nobody gets all the Mexicans hanging out” in a certain area, and another person wrote to Sheriff Arpaio complaining of Spanish being spoken at a McDonald’s and asking that a raid be conducted there to get rid of the illegal immigrants. Rather than recognize and dismiss these complaints as racist and a distraction from what the police are supposed to do—i.e., investigate actual crimes and keep the community safe, Sheriff Arpaio highlighted these complaints and sent them to his lieutenants to ensure that they considered them as they chose where to make stops and arrests. Ultimately, Arpaio and his posse could not escape the overwhelming evidence establishing their hostility against Latinos and their complete disregard for community members’ rights.

The court also found that even after the federal government rescinded its agreement with the Sheriff’s office authorizing officers to enforce certain provisions of immigration law, and after the Supreme Court made clear in Arizona v. United States that local officers could not detain people solely to verify their immigration status, MCSO continued its policy of arresting individuals who it believed to be undocumented. MCSO went as far as to have a policy of routinely detaining passengers on the basis of their race and without any suspicion that they have engaged in any criminal or traffic violation solely to verify their immigration status. The court found that these policies were clear-as-day violations of the Fourth Amendment.

This decision not only comes as a relief to the community in Maricopa County, but also at a critical time when many state and local law enforcement agencies are increasing their own efforts to enforce immigration laws and target individuals who appear, to them, foreign.

Sheriff Arpaio’s rogue law enforcement policies are not unique. Reports abound of local police departments taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, leading to similar accounts of racial profiling and unlawful detentions based on a person’s perceived immigration status. This decision serves as a warning to law enforcement officials who believe they can run roughshod over the rights of certain people and won’t be held accountable.

While Sheriff Arpaio declared in a pre-recorded video statement posted May 29 that he would appeal, we remain confident that the court’s extensive and detailed findings of fact and law are indisputable. Sheriff Joe seems to never tire of trying to justify his past actions, and now appears to be blaming the feds for faulty training. Joe—everyone knows that racial profiling is wrong, unconstitutional, and simply un-American, but sometimes it takes a lawsuit to make sure even the most obstinate of law enforcement officials understands.

Watch the video here:


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