ACLU Appears in Court Challenging Racial Profiling by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
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PHOENIX – A week after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report documenting widespread civil rights abuses by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the American Civil Liberties Union appeared in court to ask a federal court judge to declare his actions unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Today’s court hearing stems from a 2008 lawsuit filed on behalf of five individuals and the Somos America immigrants’ rights coalition challenging the illegal pattern of racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO). The plaintiffs, who include residents detained under Arpaio’s unlawful practices, are at risk for being pulled over simply because they are Latino. They are represented by the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of Arizona, MALDEF and pro bono co-counsel at the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.
“In his zeal to find undocumented immigrants, Sheriff Arpaio has set up policies and practices that systematically violate the civil rights of Latino residents, including countless U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “MCSO’s conduct is illegal and un-American, and the Sheriff and his command staff have created an agency culture that encourages and permits racial bias to take root and spread.”
In April, plaintiffs submitted hundreds of pages of evidence proving their claim of racial discrimination, including statistical evidence showing that Latino drivers are far more likely than non-Latinos to be stopped and detained for traffic violations, and that Arpaio forwarded racially-charged emails and citizen complaints to senior staff members, who acted based on those emails. The evidence is consistent with the recent Department of Justice report accusing Arpaio of “unconstitutional policing.”
“The undisputed evidence demonstrates that Sheriff Arpaio’s ‘immigration’ sweeps are done without evidence of criminal activity, are motivated by racial bias, and result in racially discriminatory treatment,” said Stanley Young of the law firm of Covington & Burling, lead counsel for plaintiffs. “Our clients have come forward to stop these constitutional violations.”
Arpaio’s focus on immigration enforcement has undermined MCSO’s ability to ensure public safety. According to a report by the Goldwater Institute, MCSO deputies failed to act on 42,297 outstanding felony warrants, and recent news stories have exposed MCSO’s failure to investigate rapes and other sexual assaults in El Mirage.
“Sheriff Arpaio’s obsession with ferreting out “illegals” based on racial stereotypes has jeopardized the public safety of everyone in Maricopa County,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Latinos are afraid to come forward with information about crimes, and he has created an even greater divide between police and the Latino community.”
“It is time for Sheriff Arpaio’s illegal and racially discriminatory policing practices to end,” said Nancy Ramirez, Western Regional Counsel for MALDEF. “The Latino community in Maricopa County is tired of being racially profiled and is demanding relief from the Sheriff’s racially biased practices. Today the Court had the opportunity to hear their concerns.”
Lawyers on the case include Wang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; Annie Lai, ACLU of Arizona Cooperating Attorney, Ramirez of MALDEF; and Young and Andrew C. Byrnes of Covington & Burling.
More information on the case, Melendres v. Arpaio, is available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/35986res20080715.html
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