Feds Sue Arizona Sheriff in Civil Rights Probe

Jacques Billeaud, Google News, September 2, 2010

The U.S. Justice Department sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Thursday, saying the Arizona lawman refused for more than a year to turn over records in an investigation into allegations his department discriminates against Hispanics.

The lawsuit calls Arpaio and his office’s defiance “unprecedented,” and said the federal government has been trying since March 2009 to get officials to comply with its probe of alleged discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and having English-only policies in his jails that discriminate against people with limited English skills.

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Arpaio’s office had said it has fully cooperated in the jail inquiry but won’t hand over additional documents into the examination of the alleged unconstitutional searches because federal authorities haven’t said exactly what they were investigating.

It’s the latest action against Arizona by the federal government, which earlier sued the state to stop its strict new immigration law that requires police officers to question people about their immigration status.

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Arpaio believes the inquiry is focused on his immigration sweeps, patrols where deputies flood an area of a city–in some cases heavily Latino areas–to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders.

Critics say his deputies pull people over for minor traffic infractions because of the color of their skin so they can ask them for their proof of citizenship.

Arpaio denies allegations of racial profiling, saying people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they’ve committed crimes and that it’s only afterward that deputies find many of them are illegal immigrants.

The sheriff’s office has said half of the 1,032 people arrested in the sweeps have been illegal immigrants.

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Last year, the nearly $113 million that the county received from the federal government accounted for about 5 percent of the county’s $2 billion budget. Arpaio’s office said it receives $3 million to $4 million each year in federal funds.

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