DOJ Finds Discriminatory Policing in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Culminating a three-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report finding that Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office has committed a wide range of federal civil rights violations as part of a pattern of unconstitutional racial profiling and discrimination aimed at Latinos.

In its report, the  DOJ said the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO)  “engages in racial profiling of Latinos; unlawfully stops, detains, and arrests Latinos; and unlawfully retaliates against individuals who complain about or criticize” the sheriff’s policies or practices.

“Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s blatant disregard for the rule of law is nothing short of appalling,” said Dan Werner, SPLC deputy legal director. “Sadly, though, the Department of Justice’s findings of serious constitutional violations are not surprising given his celebrity status among those who have been peddling and successfully passing unconstitutional anti-immigrant laws in several states.”

Among the findings: 

  • Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than non-Latino drivers, and traffic stops were routinely conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure;
  • Excessive force was used against Latinos;
  • Law enforcement activities were frequently initiated after the office received reports about individuals with “dark skin” congregating in an area or individuals speaking Spanish at a local business – even when no specific crime was alleged;
  • Latino jail inmates were routinely punished for not understanding commands given in English, and critical services were denied to Latino inmates;
  • The discriminatory treatment of Latinos reflects a general culture of bias within the department.

The DOJ also said it was expanding its investigation to encompass recent allegations by other law enforcement agencies that Arpaio’s office had failed to investigate a “large number of sex crimes,” many of them involving Latino children who had been molested.

The report said the sheriff’s office had implemented its immigration enforcement program in a way that “a wall of mistrust” between law enforcement and the Latino community that has “significantly compromised MCSO’s ability to provide police protection to Maricopa County’s Latino residents.”