The Lookout

Justice Department accuses AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio of mistreating Latinos

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

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Arpaio (AP)

The Justice Department released a 22-page report today accusing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of presiding over officers who engage in racial profiling and infringe upon people's civil rights. The federal government is giving the controversial Arizona sheriff until January 4 to agree to make changes to his program or face legal action.

Justice department officials have been investigating Arpaio's office for more than three years for what they allege is "unconstitutional policing." Arpaio, who calls himself the toughest sheriff in America, has been unapologetic about his focus on illegal immigration, publicizing a "tent city" where he kept inmates in the desert and dressed them in pink underwear.

The report accuses Maricopa officers of stopping and questioning people because they look Latino and retaliating against people in the community who complain about those practices. A statistical analysis commissioned by the Justice Department found that Maricopa County officers are at least four times more likely to stop Latino drivers than they would be to stop "similarly situated" non-Latino drivers.

The same survey found that detention officers were to punish Latino inmates with solitary confinement if they didn't understand commands in English. Detention officers refused to accept paperwork such as complaints or requests from inmates if they were written in Spanish. The officers are also accused of calling inmates "wetbacks" and other slurs.

The Justice Department says Arpaio would receive "racially charged" notes from citizens in the county complaining of people with dark skin or people who spoke Spanish in a certain area and asking Arpaio to look into the incidents. Arpaio occasionally forwarded these letters to subordinates, adding his own notes that "appear to endorse" the letters' content, according to the Justice inquiry.

"Many of  these letters contain no meaningful descriptions of  criminal activity--just  crude, ethnically derogatory language about Latinos," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote. The sheriff has not yet responded to our request for comment.

The sheriff's office admitted a few weeks ago to not properly investigating nearly 500 child molestation and sexual assault cases over three years.

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