The United States Department of Justice is suing controversial Arizona Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. According to the DOJ’s civil complaint filed yesterday, Arpaio’s department routinely violates the civil rights of citizens in Maricopa County and discriminates against Latinos within the community.
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Thomas E. Perez, read the complaint at a press conference yesterday. "If you look Latino, the complaint alleges, you are all too frequently fair game," he read.
The complaint alleges that Spanish-speaking prisoners with limited English skills were forced to sign key legal documents only printed in English, forfeiting or potentially forfeiting key rights. It also accuses the sheriff of retaliating against anyone who speaks out against him, and says that his officers have used derogatory names to refer to Latinos.
Perez also detailed how the DOJ has attempted to work with Arpaio’s department to fix the alleged problems within it, only to be denied access by the sheriff. For his part, Sheriff Joe, as he’s known, says his department is just enforcing the laws of the land and he absolutely will not stand for independent monitors taking over his office. He added that they've been in negotiations for about three years now.
"Well, I'm a little dismayed that they did it now, it's been going on for three years under the Obama administration, and now they, once again, had their big press conference, like they did in December, trying to accuse me and my office of racial profiling," he said. "They want to take over my office with monitors. That's not going to happen. I'm going to fight this to the bitter end."
Arpaio said the Justice Department is overreaching because they want to monitor his organization.
"They want to put the Department of Justice people in my office, where I even have to clear investigations, and they're going to be running my office, regardless of what they say," he continued.
According to Arpaio, being targeted by the federal government is strictly a political move.
"I'm not concerned. We train our people all the time – in fact, the federal government trained 100 or 200 of my deputies, and gave them authority to enforce the immigration laws," he explained. "We have a great organization, but they don't like me enforcing the illegal immigration laws and they're trying to use me as the poster guy to send a message across the country that the president and the attorney general holder, who's under fire too, are doing something to defend the Latino community."
Arpaio denied any alleged stories and complaints that have surfaced about Latino mistreatment.
"Well why don't they give us the facts? Give us the proof. All they do is talk and take the word of a few people," he said. "Even if it happened, that doesn't mean my whole organization is racist and we racial profile, because there's some isolated incidents. That's ridiculous. They won't give us information."
He said he can only think of two or three deputies who have been disciplined for racial bias. "We arrest anybody. It doesn't matter if you're Latino or anyone else."
Arpaio remains confident about the integrity of his deputy force, and said he is willing to continue negotiations to get the problem resolved.
"My deputies are well-trained, they're professional," he said. "I'm defending my office against those vicious, vicious allegations by the justice department, who's connected with all the activists here, working in conjunction with them and the ACLU, trying to get this sheriff to resign. That's not going to happen. ... I always said that we're willing to negotiate and work together. I'm a former federal, top law enforcement official with the Justice Department, and I would like to get this resolved," he concluded.
What will the outcome of the suit be? Does this spell the end for a powerful, popular but extremely controversial sheriff?
Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Sheriff