Lorena Escamilla, who is Hispanic, said she was discriminated against and mistreated when she was pulled over while driving home from school three years ago. Escamilla testified that her baby was born healthy and that her attempts to complain with the sheriff’s office went nowhere.
Arpaio has repeatedly denied charges that his department discriminates against Latinos and says his deputies only make stops when they think a crime has been committed.
But the group of Latinos who filed the civil lawsuit says that Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies pull over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks.
The plaintiffs aren’t seeking money. They instead want a declaration stating that Arpaio’s office engages in discriminatory practices and an order requiring the department to make policy changes.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff’s office has been accused of systematic racial profiling and will serve as a bellwether for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio and his agency by the U.S. Justice Department.
If Arpaio loses the case, he won’t face jail time or fines.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide the case. Testimony is expected to wrap next week.
Escamilla, 33, said Thursday that a deputy made a U-turn to pull her over in September 2009, even though she hadn’t broken any traffic laws.
She said the deputy told her he thought she had guns and drugs in the car and that the light on her license plate wasn’t working.
“He was being very unprofessional,” she said.
Escamilla said the officer became hostile when she refused to agree to a search of the vehicle, and she fought back tears as she testified that the deputy cussed at her when she refused to sit on her hot car.
Escamilla said the officer then grabbed her and slammed her several times into the hood and against the side-view mirror. She said he then put her in his patrol car, detaining her for about 30 minutes.
Eventually, a drug-sniffing dog was brought in to search her car. Authorities did not find drugs or guns, she said.
She was cited for lacking proof of insurance and released, though she disputed the ticket. She also said she filed a formal complaint with Phoenix police a few years after the stop.
Arpaio’s lawyers raised skepticism over her characterization of the stop, questioning her account of the U-turn. They also asked whether she took photos of any bruising from the encounter. She said she did not.
Also, under questioning from an Arpaio lawyer, Escamilla said she was not aware if her license plate light had been out.
She was not ticketed for such a violation.
The officer who pulled over Escamilla has not testified.