The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed suit [complaint, PDF; press release] Thursday against Maricopa County, Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio [official websites] alleging discriminatory conduct. The DOJ claims that Arpaio and his department engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory and unlawful law enforcement actions against Latinos. According to the complaint, "Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and Latino prisoners with limited English language skills are denied important constitutional protections." The DOJ is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that the sheriff's office implements policies to prevent discriminatory conduct. Speaking at a press conference [text], Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said:
The police are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not divide them. At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff and sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, compromised public safety, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics. Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand-in-hand. Our complaint alleges that the defendants’ actions were neither constitutional nor effective.The suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website].
The DOJ conducted a comprehensive and independent investigation initiated in June 2008 under Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 [text, PDF] and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [DOJ materials]. In December the DOJ issued a 22-page letter of findings [text, PDF], which found reasonable cause that sheriff's office and Arpaio were engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and violations of federal law. The DOJ attempted to reach a settlement, but negotiations were unsuccessful, and the lawsuit followed. Arpaio, who took office in 1993, has called himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." In 2008 a federal judge ordered him to take steps to remedy overcrowded and unhygienic conditions [JURIST report] in Maricopa County prisons.