Sharpton Seeks Help in Ariz. Sheriff’s Abuse Probe

Jonathan J. Cooper, AP, June 19, 2009

The Rev. Al Sharpton on Friday called for opponents of an Arizona sheriff who has aggressively cracked down on illegal immigration to videotape alleged racial profiling by the sheriff’s office.

The civil rights leader said the videos will help the U.S. Department of Justice in an investigation of alleged civil rights abuses by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.

“We’re gonna start some freedom rides around this county, to show how people of a certain skin color are treated different than other people,” Sharpton told a crowd of several hundred people at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix.

Sharpton spoke with Arpaio later Friday in a meeting that the sheriff called cordial.

Arpaio said Sharpton did not mention his freedom rides plan, but asked about racial profiling.

“I tried to educate him that we don’t do it,” Arpaio said.

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Critics have said sheriff’s deputies conducted racial profiling last spring during immigration and crime sweeps in some Latino areas in metropolitan Phoenix. The sweeps had led Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon to ask for a federal investigation of Arpaio for possible civil rights violations.

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Arpaio has said people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes.

The sheriff has taken a hard line against illegal immigration and strongly enforces Arizona’s employer-sanctions law, which punishes businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers. He worked with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to use the state’s human-smuggling law to charge illegal immigrants for conspiring to smuggle themselves into the state.

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Arpaio said he told Sharpton that he would continue his immigration enforcement despite criticism and the civil rights investigation, adding that Sharpton “may have learned that maybe with this sheriff my people aren’t as bad as he may read in the newspapers or as some politicians tell him.”

Brandy Baron, a 53-year-old Arpaio supporter, said she’s glad Arpaio agreed to meet with a harsh critic and called Sharpton “a loser who needs to mind his own business.”

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