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Montgomery questions DOJ report; calls for reinstatement of immigration checks

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery today joined the chorus of Republicans questioning the political motives of the U.S. Department of Justice and its release of findings that the Sheriff’s Office has followed a practice of racial profiling.

Montgomery also said he’s also going to ask the federal government to reinstate a program it stripped from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Thursday that allows detention officers to check the immigration status of people who are getting processed into jail.

Montgomery questioned the timing and methods of the civil rights announcement, particularly since a key hearing is scheduled Dec. 22 in a federal lawsuit alleging racial profiling against the Sheriff’s Office.

“We here in Maricopa County, probably more so than anywhere else in this country, understand what happens when you begin an investigation that has partisan or issue-politics overtones,” Montgomery said.  “It calls into question the integrity of the investigation in the first place, it calls into question the motivations of those who are conducting the investigation and casts doubt on the conclusions.”

Montgomery said that despite the politics he is going to wait until he learns more before deciding whether he believes the allegations are true and what he needs to do.

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice alleged in a 22-page report released Thursday that the Sheriff’s Office has illegally harassed, arrested and detained Hispanics in routine traffic stops and crime sweeps. The department also alleged that Hispanic inmates who don’t speak English are mistreated, and that Sheriff Joe Arpaio retaliates against his critics.

The report is actually a letter addressed to Montgomery to inform him as the county’s legal counsel of the allegations.

Montgomery said he found it “curious” the letter was addressed to him and only copied to the private lawyers who have been representing Arpaio since June and providing cooperation in the federal investigation.

Montgomery said he got a call Wednesday from a federal official who invited him to a meeting regarding an investigation of the Sheriff’s Office, but he didn’t’ attend since the federal official wouldn’t disclose anything else. He also said the County Attorney’s Office has a conflict of interest involving another federal investigation of the Sheriff’s Office.

But after having read the 22-page letter, Montgomery questioned the use of statistics and crime rates the department used.

The letter stated that since the Sheriff’s Office began focusing on immigration enforcement, violent crime rates grew. The department relied on a Goldwater Institute report and an East Valley Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning series that examined crime statistics from 2004 to 2007.

Montgomery said his staff has concluded that crime rates actually dipped 19 percent from 2008 to 2010, the years immigration enforcement was in full swing in Maricopa County.

The federal government is requiring Arpaio to let it know by Jan. 4 whether he is going to respond to the allegations and then two months to agree to an overhaul of his agency that would come with judicial oversight.

Arpaio said Thursday he will cooperate with the federal government, but if they can’t hammer out an agreement, then he will be happy to go to court.

The announcement of the findings was followed shortly by an announcement to take away the Sheriff’s Office’s authority to enforce immigration law.

Basically, the federal government is going to shut off a computer link to the jail that gives specially trained detention officers the ability determine immigration status of people.

Montgomery said that is going to hamper his job because that ability to determine immigration status has allowed deputy county attorneys to argue for no bail for illegal immigrants arrested on higher level felonies.

Voters approved Proposition 100 in 2006, allowing the courts to hold illegal immigrants without bail. Now, Montgomery said, illegal immigrants are going to be eligible for bail like anyone else, which will give them the ability to simply cross the border and never return to face their charges, he said.

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