Our guest blogger is Billy Corriher, associate director of research for Legal Progress.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s toughest Sheriff,” faced damning evidence of widespread racial profiling in a class action lawsuit that began yesterday in Phoenix. The suit was brought by several Latino persons who allege that Arpaio’s police force discriminated against them during traffic stops. In his opening statement, the plaintiffs’ attorney said, “A fundamental value of our nation is equal protection under laws, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
Arpaio’s attorney argued that “race and ethnicity had nothing to do with their traffic stops.” But the testimony of a criminal justice expert detailed who was targeted by Arpaio’s “immigration sweeps.” The expert said there was a “much higher likelihood” that deputies would run Hispanic names than non-Hispanic. He also testified that if a deputy ran a Hispanic name, the stop would take two minutes longer. Another recent study found that, in certain parts of Maricopa County, Latino drivers are more than nine times as likely to be stopped by Arpaio’s deputies than non-Latino drivers engaged in the same conduct.
One of the plaintiffs is a Mexican tourist who presented deputies with a valid visa and ID but was nevertheless arrested. The driver of the vehicle, a white person, was not cited for speeding (the deputies’ proffered reason for stopping the car).
After this trial concludes, Arpaio is still facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice which, in addition to racial profiling, accuses the sheriff’s office of using racial slurs and failing to investigate hundreds of sex crimes. DOJ is exploring the possibility of criminal charges against Arpaio for targeting his political opponents with frivolous arrests. Rather than fixing these systemic problems in his department, Arpaio is engaged in a wild goose chase for evidence of fraud in President Obama’s birth certificate.