Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a news conference at his headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo : Joshua Lott / Reuters)
Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a case on his hands that is likely bigger than any other he's had to face before.
On Thursday May 10, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil rights complaint against Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and its Sheriff Joe Arpaio for discrimination and other "unconstitutional" acts against Latinos.
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The complaint essentially asks for a federal judge to issue an order forbidding deputies from discriminatory acts and practices as they patrol and operate the county's jails. It also demands that the agency implement policies and training to avoid such practices as those federal investigators claim to have found in the Sheriff's Office.
The lawsuit is the latest development in a three year case by the United States Justice Department. The Department has made numerous attempts to obtain information from Arpaio's office regarding the accusations, but the Sheriff's Office refused to cooperate. Talks between the Sheriff's Office and the US Department of Justice had already broken off because of a battle over the Justice Department's demand that an independent monitor be appointed by a federal court to oversee Arpaio's actions.
"The defendants' violations of the Constitution and laws of the United States are a product of a culture of disregard in MCSO for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization," the complaint reads.
Numerous incidents have been cited in the complaint. The lawsuit describes how a Sheriff's deputy stopped a 5-months pregnant Latino Woman as she pulled into her driveway. The officer demanded that she sit on the hood of her car and upon her refusal he wrapped her arms around her back, and slammed her into the car stomach-first three times. According to the lawsuit, she had failed to provide him with a proof of insurance, which she later proved to a local court.
During the raid of a home suspected of housing illegal immigrants, the sheriff's officers entered a home next door without a warrant or evidence of criminal activity. According to the complaint, they proceeded to handcuff a Latino man and his 12-year-old son and forced them to sit on the sidewalk for over an hour with 10 people they seized from the adjoining house. The man is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and his son is a citizen.
The lawsuit comes as the five-term sheriff prepares to campaign for re-election in this fall's coming elections.
"They know that I'm going to get elected. It's a national issue," Arpaio said during a News Conference on Thursday May 10. "I'm the poster boy. The national press is picking this up again ... I can get elected on pink underwear."
Arpaio has denied any acts of discrimination and has cited that Obama's Administration is trying to "strong arm me into submission for political gain."