Despite touting “law and order” credentials in his crusade against undocumented workers, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken the position that he’s above the law, choosing instead to ignore repeated requests by the Department of Justice to turn over documents in connection with allegations that his department discriminations against Latinos. Now that position has landed him in a lawsuit, as DOJ has finally said “enough”. Last week they sued Arpaio and have asked a federal court to compel Arpaio to turn over relevant and routine documents DOJ has sought since March of 2009.
The Department of Justice’s investigation pre-dates the confrontation with the state of Arizona over SB 1070 but encapsulates the escalating standoff between certain elements of the right in Arizona and the federal government.
The documents at the heart of this dispute all surround repeated complaints that Arpaio and the MCSO unlawfully targets Latinos in its law enforcement efforts and unlawfully treat Latinos differently once detained. Examples of complaints against Arpaio include unlawfully refusing to provide access to translators, conducting illegal immigration sweeps and shackling pregnant detainees during birth, all in violation of federal law.
Local sheriffs can be empowered, via federal law, to enforce federal immigration laws. Last year Arpaio was stripped of his special power to enforce federal immigration law because of the complaints. Arpaio is under a separate federal grand jury investigation in Phoenix for complaints that he abused his powers by intimidating county workers by showing up at their homes at nights and weekends.
The total lack of cooperation by Arpaio in the civil rights investigation has been called “unprecedented”. As a recipient of federal funding, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is not only legally required to follow federal laws concerning the staffing and procedures at their facilities, they are mandated to keep records of arrests, complaints, and policies for addressing discrimination complaints. That means that Sheriff Arpaio is accountable to the taxpayers of the United States, in addition to his own local constituents.
According to a DOJ spokeswoman, it has been 30 years since any police agency has refused to cooperate with a civil rights investigation, and the feds have never before had to sue in such a situation to force a police agency to provide access to routine documents. But given Arpaio’s ties to the hard right and his support from nativists pushing an anti-Latino agenda, his utter disregard for the rule of law comes as no surprise
photo courtesy of ryanjreiley via Flickr