Immigrant-rights groups are calling the arrest of a Phoenix civil rights leader “unlawful” and an example of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s abuse of power against vocal opponents.
Salvador Reza, an outspoken activist and leader of Puente, was arrested July 30 while he observed from across the street a protest outside the Lower Buckeye Jail on 35th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road in Phoenix.
Reza was jailed for hours before a Maricopa County judge and the prosecutor concluded there was no probable cause for his arrest and released him the next morning. The judge, however, did not dismiss the charge and set a court date for Aug. 18.
Reza had been arrested a day before during a protest of SB1070, Arizona’s strict new immigration law, in which he took part in blocking the entrance to the Maricopa County Jail.
Lt. Brian Lee, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an e-mail Aug. 4 that Reza’s second arrest was for interfering with judicial proceedings after the judge had ordered that Reza could “not initiate contact of any nature with the alleged victim(s) and/or complainant, including arresting officers.
“When a defendant is released from custody, they are often given conditions of release from the judge which constitutes an order of the court,” Lee said in the e-mail. “Violating those conditions is considered an interference with judicial proceedings.”
Reza said he believes he was arrested for hindering raids Arpaio had scheduled to conduct July 29, the day SB1070 was enacted.
Arpaio had scheduled a mass crime-suppression operation, but his sweeps were delayed when he had to deploy numerous officers to Maricopa County Jail as hundreds of immigrant-rights supporters protested Arizona’s new immigration law outside the jail.
“I think Sheriff Joe was very upset that we interfered with his operations of going to search for people and using the typical racial profiling he always does,” Reza said.
Lydia Guzman, the leader of immigrant rights group Somos America, said Reza’s case is similar to those of other public figures who have been “harassed” by Arpaio for being vocal opponents on his crackdown on illegal immigration. Maricopa County Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and the ~Phoenix New Times~ owners are among those who have been targeted by the sheriff, she said.
“Anyone who publically speaks out against Arpaio can expect to be harassed,” Guzman said.
Dan Pochoda, the legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, said the group’s legal team is investigating whether the sheriff’s deputies purposely arrested Reza for being a vocal opponent of Arpaio.
“We know that the sheriff is being investigated by (a) grand jury and others for abuses of power and going after known enemies as opposed to based on criminal activity,” Pochoda said. “Now, I can’t say that is what occurred in this instance but it certainly wouldn’t be unheard of.”
Monica Sandschafer, the executive director of the immigrant rights group LUCHA, was among seven people who were arrested by the Sherriff’s Office in December 2008 on two occasions – one for sitting outside the Board of Supervisors’ offices and the second for standing and applauding during a supervisors’ meeting.
All charges against them were dropped and they will be receiving a total of about $500,000 after suing and claiming their First Amendment rights were violated.
Sandschafer said her and Reza’s arrests are examples of Arpaio and his deputies carrying out wrongful arrests.
“It’s very clear that it’s a strategy of the Sherriff’s Office to identify people they consider leaders of the movement against them and against their abuses,” Sandschafer said.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office responded to the accusations of the sheriff deputies misusing their powers from immigrant-rights activists by saying “that is their opinion” and that there is “a probable cause and reasonable suspicion” for Reza’s arrest.
Sen. Russell Pearce, an ally of Arpaio, came to the sheriff’s defense and dismissed the allegations that people who publicly speak out against Arpaio can expect to be harassed.
Speaking in general terms, Pearce called some of Arpaio’s critics “anti-American, anti-law, pro-illegal alien, pro-open border.
“They intend to get arrested. They put themselves into position to be arrested,” Pearce said. “And they complain he’s picking on them. It’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Reza said he is unsure whether he will sue the Sheriff’s Office, but said he hopes the Justice Department and the Obama Administration will halt what he calls Arpaio’s abuse of power, immigration raids, and unlawful arrests.
“Arpaio has been under investigation for two years and there’s enough evidence to prove that he’s violating his use of power,” Reza said. “If they don’t stop him, he will keep on doing this to anybody that speaks out against him or challenges him on what he’s doing.”