Sheriff Joe on Trial

New York Times, July 15, 2012

Five years after he started “crime suppression” sweeps that terrorized Latino neighborhoods across Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is finally having to explain himself. {snip}

The trial in Melendres v. Arpaio, a class-action civil-rights lawsuit, is scheduled to begin Thursday in Federal District Court in Phoenix. The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, accuse the sheriff of waging an all-out, unlawful campaign of discrimination and harassment against Latinos and those who look like them.

They say the sheriff and his deputies—aided by ad hoc civilian “posses,” anonymous phone tipsters, even motorcycle gangs—made illegal stops, searches and arrests, staged wrongful neighborhood and workplace raids, and provoked widespread fear among citizens, legal residents and undocumented immigrants alike.

One plaintiff, Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, is a Mexican citizen who had a valid visa when Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies arrested him in 2007. He said he was handcuffed and held for hours, not read his rights or allowed a phone call, or told why he had been arrested. Two other plaintiffs, Velia Meraz and Manuel Nieto, were accosted by deputies at gunpoint during a neighborhood sweep, for no explained reason. They are citizens.


This case is only the first of what is likely to be a string of civil rights challenges against immigration actions in Arizona. A civil lawsuit, brought by the Justice Department, accusing Sheriff Arpaio of systematic and widespread civil rights abuses, is moving through the courts.


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