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Plaintiffs rest in Arpaio racial profiling case

Kathryn Kodor of Phoenix, holds a sign of support for Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the Sandra Day O'Connor Courthouse in downtown Phoenix, before the start of the racial-profiling case against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Lawyers who say that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office disproportionately singled out Latinos in the patrols accused him of launching some sweeps based on emails and letters that don't allege crimes, but complain only that "dark-skinned people" are congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish. Arpaio has long denied racial profiling allegations. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza)

Offensive letters, tearful personal stories and reams of statistics have been shared as plaintiffs’ lawyers rested their case Tuesday in a racial profiling lawsuit against an Arizona sheriff and his department.

But legal experts say the group of Latinos who brought the civil case against Maricopa County’s Joe Arpaio, known by his supporters as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” have a high bar to clear to convince a judge that there was systematic discrimination in the agency.

“These cases are difficult to bring and difficult to win under the best circumstances,” said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies racial profiling and wrote a book on the subject.

Arpaio has repeatedly denied charges that his department discriminates against Latinos, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed.

But plaintiffs say deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff’s special “immigration sweeps.”

Dan Pochoda, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, pressing the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said his side is relying on circumstantial evidence.

“There is rarely a smoking gun in these cases,” Pochoda said.

Arpaio’s office and top attorney Tim Casey declined to comment Tuesday. But throughout the trial the defendants have disputed evidence at all turns and pointed out that officers have received training in preventing racial profiling.

Testimony is expected to wrap this week, and U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide the case.

Experts say 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, Harris said. He added that such an approach makes it harder to dismiss claims as isolated.

To that effort, plaintiffs’ lawyers have presented people who broke down in tears as they described encounters with authorities, saying they were pulled over because they were Hispanic and officers wanted to check their immigration status, not because they had committed an infraction.

Attorneys for Arpaio and the department disputed such characterizations, typically working to show that officers had probable cause to stop the drivers based on a traffic violation.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers also presented statistics to show that Latinos are more likely to be stopped on days of immigration patrols. And they criticized the department saying its safeguards against discriminatory policing are flimsy. They also showed emails containing offensive jokes about people of Mexican heritage that were circulated among sheriff’s department employees, including a supervisor in Arpaio’s immigrant smuggling squad.

The plaintiffs also have accused Arpaio of launching some patrols based on letters from county residents complaining that dark-skinned people were congregating or speaking Spanish, but did not allege any criminal activity.

Defense lawyers disputed the statistical findings and said that officers who circulated offensive jokes were disciplined. They also denied that the complaint letters prompted patrols with a discriminatory motive.

Also, Arpaio’s lawyers asked Snow for a dismissal, arguing in part that there was no testimony offered to prove plaintiffs’ claims that racial profiling safeguards were inadequate.

The judge denied the request and said the trial will continue.

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 and his agency by the U.S. Justice Department.

Maricopa County officials say a suit making a similar profiling allegation against the sheriff’s office was settled last year without an admission of wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs in the case currently before Judge Snow aren’t seeking money damages, they are seeking a declaration that Arpaio’s office racially profiles and an order requiring policy changes. If Arpaio loses the case, he won’t face jail time or fines.

If he wins, it will severely undercut the upcoming federal case against him that makes similar allegations and also focuses on the special immigration patrols.

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. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio’s office, which hasn’t conducted any of the special patrols since October.

Gabriel J. Chin, a University of Davis law professor whose specialty includes race and the law, said discrimination cases are hard to prove because there’s always an alternative explanation presented. But Chin said alternative explanations can work against an agency.

“At some point, you are asking the finder of fact to accept a lot of coincidences,” Chin said.


  1. So, let me see if this is correct. If we were in Kansas and pulled over people who were making traffic violations would we be discriminating against people of Oklahoma? Mexico is one of Arizona’s borders and thousands of people come across into Arizona each year from there, just like in Kansas and Oklahomans do. The percent of the population in his county that is Non-White something around 44% according to 2011 census data. So the probability of being pulled over just because you are Non-White is almost a 50-50 chance! So can we assume that in any given day ANY citizen of this county has a 50-50 chance of being pulled over? I think so, to think that his department ONLY pulls over people of color is to say the least a ridiculous train of thought! The people of Arizona elected Sheriff Joe over and over because he does his job that they elected him to do, enforce the laws unlike many many other “Politically Correct” elected officials and law enforcement agencies who choose which laws they want to enforce.

    It is only the wacky open borders groups that are trying to discredit the sheriff, we all know it and it only shows how out of touch they are with the reality of a nations requirement to protect its citizens. Just about every nation has laws on how to immigrate legally to a country, many are much harder than the USA, and few if any take in so many immigrants each year as the USA. But no, the hard core open border groups like those protesting against the sheriff want “Their” people to be treated “Special” “Their people who come here illegally” have more rights than American citizens.
    Americans are feed up with this **** from the far left wing nut jobs and would like to just tell them if they want open borders, to another country and protest there! Your meal ticket has expired here and we no longer want your sorry @%% here.

  2. Racial profiling helps to keep Big Business raking in Millions upon Millions of taxpayer dollars. Policing for profit has distorted our Judicial Process and Court Systems, making them tools for Wall Street without citizens’ best interests at mind. You can read about how private companies and crooked politicians have turned our Police forces on their ear in every attempt to squeeze money out of the general public at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-privatized-police-state.html

  3. Arizona has always profited off of the backs of it’s non-legal ciitzens. What we, the latino/hispanic/Mexican community needs to do is to keep on educating ourselves..at some point in our future we will upset the balance of the political and racial party that has gripped the state of Arizona for so long. We will turn the tide… focus on education and please get out there and register to vote. It is only through education and becoming the system that we will change things for the better. The currect state of affairs, TV, political media, has created a race and hate war and we have bought into it..Stay focused..Prestas Attencion!.. Obama/Biden

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