Feds: Arizona's Sheriff Arpaio Violated Civil Rights in Immigration Enforcement

Dec 15, 2011

The Department of Justice on Thursday leveled charges of unconstitutional policing against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation into civil rights abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been going on for more than three years.

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department accused the sheriff’s office of racially profiling Hispanics and unlawfully arresting them. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called the sheriff’s office "broken" as he laid out the allegations.

“We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department," Perez said. "A culture that bred a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections.”

Deputies are accused of targeting Hispanics for arrest, and in some cases, charged them with immigration-related crimes. Some of those were legal U.S. residents. Arpaio’s office is also accused of retaliating against people who criticized its policies.

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton has sparred with Arpaio for several years, both in and out of the courtroom.

"And this is why I think it is we can be justifiably proud of what happened here today," Charlton said. "This kind of behavior is unconstitutional, ought not to be allowed and we have a justice system that works to prevent that kind of activity."

The civil rights investigation is only one federal investigation into practices at the sheriff’s office. An unrelated criminal investigation involving the sheriff’s office and the county attorney’s office continues.

The Justice Department has mandated a series of correctional steps the sheriff’s office must undergo. The office has until January 4 to answer the demands or face federal civil litigation.

In response to today’s report, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced she is terminating the agency’s agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office regarding immigration enforcement. She also said she will restrict the sheriff’s office access to the Secure Communities Program.

The DHS Secretary explained the reasons in a statement released Thursday:

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is troubled by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) findings of discriminatory policing practices within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust.

DHS will not be a party to such practices.

Accordingly, and effective immediately, DHS is terminating MCSO’s 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office access to the Secure Communities program. DHS will utilize federal resources for the purpose of identifying and detaining those individuals who meet U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) immigration enforcement priorities.

The Department will continue to enforce federal immigration laws in Maricopa County in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens, recent border crossers, repeat and egregious immigration law violators and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor.”