Federal Court Puts Halt to Illegal Traffic Stops of Latinos in Maricopa County

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
December 23, 2011 10:08 pm

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Court Also Certifies Class Action by Latino Drivers and Passengers and Paves Way for Trial on Race Discrimination

CONTACT: (212) 519-7811, media@aclu.org

PHOENIX – A federal district court today put a halt to the systematic practice by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of stopping and arresting Latinos based only on suspicion of unlawful presence in the United States and without any evidence of criminal activity, ruling that such detentions violate constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow also ruled that the lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, should proceed to trial on the separate claim of unconstitutional racial profiling and noted that the plaintiffs have already made a strong showing of intentional race discrimination.

The court also ordered that the case should proceed as a class action. As a result, all Latino drivers and passengers who may be stopped, searched or detained unconstitutionally will have a remedy under today’s order.

At issue in the case are so-called crime saturation patrols and traffic stops done without evidence of criminal activity, which the plaintiffs charge are motivated by racial bias, and result in racially discriminatory treatment. The ruling comes in a 2008 lawsuit filed on behalf of five individuals and the Somos America immigrants’ rights coalition challenging racial profiling by the sheriff’s office.

Plaintiffs have submitted thousands of pages of evidence of racial discrimination, including statistics showing Latino drivers are more likely than non-Latinos to be stopped and detained for traffic violations, and that Arpaio forwarded racially-charged e-mails and citizen complaints to senior staff members, who acted based on those e-mails. The evidence is consistent with the recent DOJ report accusing Arpaio of “unconstitutional policing.”

They are represented by the ACLU of Arizona, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, MALDEF and pro bono co-counsel at the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.

“We are encouraged by the court’s recognition of the strong evidence showing the MCSO’s pattern and practice of racial profiling and its conducting of operations for reasons that are racially biased,” said Stanley Young of the law firm of Covington & Burling, lead counsel for plaintiffs. “We look forward to a final resolution of these issues, and an additional injunction against the MCSO’s violations of the equal protection clause, after a trial.”

“The court’s injunction on our illegal seizure claim is a significant step toward stopping the sheriff’s office from violating people’s civil rights,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court’s order makes clear that MCSO violates the Fourth Amendment when it stops and detains merely based on a suspicion that a person is in the United States unlawfully.”

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said: “The Sheriff’s Office has used the excuse of immigration enforcement to systematically violate the civil rights of Latinos in Maricopa County, including U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.”

Nancy Ramirez, Western Regional Counsel for MALDEF, said: “Today’s ruling enjoining the MCSO from detaining persons based only on knowledge or a reasonable belief that the person is unlawfully present within the United States goes a long way in providing much needed relief to Latinos in Maricopa County who have for too long been subject to Sheriff Arpaio’s racially discriminatory practices. The Court’s injunction reaches the heart of the case in stopping the MCSO from continuing its race-based conduct.”

Lydia Guzman of Somos America, said: “The people of Maricopa County can now breathe a sigh of relief. For far too long, the sheriff has terrorized our community and created a sense of distrust.”

Lawyers on the case include Wang; Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; Annie Lai, ACLU of Arizona cooperating attorney, Ramirez of MALDEF; and Young and Andrew Byrnes of Covington & Burling.

For more information on the case, Melendres v. Arpaio, go to: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/35986res20080715.html.

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