MESA – Officials in the Phoenix suburb of Guadalupe have filed a federal lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in hopes their town won't be left without police protection.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 26, is a last-minute attempt to derail a vote by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in which they're expected to approve Arpaio's decision to pull his deputies out of the town.
Arpaio and town leaders have been at odds for months over the sheriff's immigration sweeps. Town officials say the sweeps violate residents' civil rights while Arpaio says he's ferreting out crime.
Arpaio responded to criticism by telling town leaders that he was ending his agency's long-standing contract with Guadalupe because they didn't like the way he does business.
Guadalupe pays the sheriff's office to patrol the one-square-mile town because it cannot afford to equip and train its own force.
With the sheriff's office poised to leave town, Guadalupe would either have to create its own police department or find another agency to take the job. Despite six months of looking, no other agency has stepped forward.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, says the sheriff cannot cancel the contract simply because the town's leaders criticized him. That would violate the town's right to freedom of speech, according to the suit.
”It has nothing to do with free speech,'' Arpaio said Sept. 27 before seeing the lawsuit. ”It has to do with the fact that they don't like the way I enforce the law in Guadalupe.''
Town leaders did not return calls for comment Sept. 27.
The lawsuit also asks for a judge to block the Board of Supervisors from holding another vote on the matter. Town leaders would rather see the issue left undecided for now.