Testimony concluded Thursday at a trial aimed at settling allegations that an Arizona sheriff’s office known for its hardline immigration enforcement has racially profiled Latinos.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide the case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department. Snow didn’t reveal when he would issue his verdict, though it won’t come until after an Aug. 16 deadline for attorneys to turn in their last round of written closing arguments.
A small group of Latinos who brought the case said Arpaio’s deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff’s 20 special patrols known as “immigration sweeps.” During the 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.
Arpaio also is accused of ordering some of the patrols not based on reports of crime but rather letters from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish.
The sheriff has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed.
Outside of court, plaintiffs’ attorneys said they believe they proved that the sheriff had an intentional policy of discriminating against Latinos and pointed out that Arpaio sent racially charged citizen complaints to a top aide who planned the patrols.
“It starts with the sheriff’s correspondence to his chief (aide) and goes all the way down to his deputies who used race to determine how and where to make decisions or how to inquire about immigration status,” said Stan Young, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney.
Tom Liddy, one of Arpaio’s lawyers, said the other side didn’t prove its case. “In three weeks, we have not seen any evidence — only allegations, no evidence — that a single deputy made a single traffic stop based on race,” Liddy said.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff’s office has been accused of systematically racially profiling Latinos and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio in May by the U.S. Department of Justice.
There has never been a finding by a court that Arpaio’s office has racially profiled Latinos, though a case that made such an allegation was settled last year for $200,000 without an admission of wrongdoing by the sheriff’s office, county officials said.
The plaintiffs aren’t seeking money damages and instead are seeking a declaration that Arpaio’s office racially profiles and an order that requires it to make policy changes.
If Arpaio loses the civil case, he won’t face jail time or fines. If he wins, it could undercut the upcoming federal case.
If the judge rules against Arpaio’s office, both sides would give the judge input before Snow would impose remedies.
Legal experts say those who filed the case against Arpaio have a high bar to clear to convince a judge that there was systematic discrimination in the agency.
They said it’s not enough for plaintiffs’ lawyers to show that a person or a group of people were discriminated against by sheriff’s deputies. To prove systematic racial profiling, lawyers must present multiple layers of supporting evidence, such as testimony and statistics.