DOJ Holds Off on Suing Arpaio–For Now

Mike Levine, Fox News, August 17, 2010

The Justice Department says it won’t follow through on a threat to sue controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio–at least not for another week.

According to a Justice Department official, things are on hold pending a meeting set for next Tuesday in Washington with Justice Department officials and lawyers for Arpaio, whose office is under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged civil rights violations. Arpaio has become a controversial figure over what some say are overly aggressive tactics to fight illegal immigration in Arizona.

In a letter dated Aug. 3, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez, accused Arpaio of failing to cooperate with the department’s investigation, warning that, “Absent [your office’s] voluntary cooperation with this investigation within two weeks–by August 17, 2010–the Department will file a Title VI civil action to compel access to the requested documents, facilities, and personnel.”

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The Justice Department launched its investigation in March 2009, telling Arpaio in letters at the time that the “investigation will focus on alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and on allegations of national origin discrimination, including failure to provide meaningful access to MCSO services for limited English proficient individuals.” In addition, the Justice Department said, the investigation will look at allegations that Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office “has an English-only policy in its jails,” including a requirement that even bilingual detention officers “speak to inmates in English at all times, except in case of an emergency.”

While Arpaio’s office subsequently provided some documents, it has largely refused to meet the Justice Department’s requests. Arpaio has criticized the investigation as politically motivated.

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Arpaio’s lawyers argue that their client is {snip} not obligated to comply with requests not covered by Title VI, particularly requests related to “alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.”

Meanwhile, a grand jury in Phoenix is looking into separate matters related to Arpaio’s tenure as sheriff.

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