Lawyers representing Latinos who accuse Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office of racial profiling are asking a federal judge to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees from being called to testify by the sheriff’s lawyers at a trial.
Motions filed late Friday in the suit say ICE gave the sheriff’s lawyers permission to depose five ICE employees, but the depositions were never conducted.
Lawyers for the five Latinos who sued say they were therefore unable to counter with their own questions for the ICE workers. They say Arpaio’s lawyers should be barred from calling the employees to the stand.
The plaintiff’s attorneys also wrote that two other ICE agents who did give depositions have no relevant testimony and also should not be called.
Those two agents told attorneys they saw no evidence of racial profiling, American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona legal director Dan Pochoda said, and the other five would likely be asked the same questions.
Pochoda said Sunday the ICE agents’ testimony wouldn’t be helpful for the defense because they have no direct knowledge of why Arpaio’s deputies may have initially stopped vehicles. They were only involved later in the process.
“We’re not worried about the testimony,” Pochoda said. “There’s nothing bad, because they don’t have any direct knowledge that’s responsive.”
The lawsuit alleges Arpaio’s officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could inquire about the occupants’ immigration status.
Arpaio has denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people pulled over in the patrols were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes and it was only afterward that deputies found many of them were illegal immigrants.
Efforts to reach Arpaio’s lawyers Sunday were unsuccessful.
Arpaio already is facing an uphill battle in the suit. In December, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow barred deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.
That ruling set the stage for a possible trial in a lawsuit that ultimately could further limit Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration authority. The Justice Department yanked Arpaio’s federal immigration powers in December.
Snow hasn’t yet ruled on the ultimate question of racial profiling, but noted in December that evidence could lead a judge or jury to conclude that Arpaio’s office racially profiles Latinos.
“Sheriff Arpaio has made public statements that a fact-finder could interpret as endorsing racial profiling,” Snow said.
Friday’s motions are a prelude for a final pre-trial conference set for March 23, when a formal trial date is expected to be set.
During his immigration patrols known as “sweeps,” deputies flood an area of a city — in some cases, heavily Latino areas — over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008.
Separate from the lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Arpaio’s office of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish.
The sheriff’s office said it doesn’t discriminate against Latinos and is negotiating to resolve the allegations. But the office says it is prepared to go to court if the Justice Department files a lawsuit.