PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona's human-smuggling law does not authorize deputies for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to stop immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally, a federal judge ruled.
In a separate ruling, the court sanctioned Arpaio after finding that "numerous emails and 'stat sheets' responsive to plaintiffs' discovery requests were destroyed by defendants."
Five individuals allegedly subjected to illegal stops filed suit in 2007, claiming that sheriff's deputies enforced the human-smuggling law by "using pretextual and unfounded stops, racially motivated questioning, searches and other mistreatment."
After holding a hearing on the case last week, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found that "there is 'sufficient likelihood' that plaintiffs' rights will be violated again" if deputies continue to detain people without reasonable suspicion.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office wrongfully believes that its "authority to stop people to investigate violations of the state human smuggling statute is the same as a federal immigration officer's authority to enforce federal civil immigration law," Snow wrote. "The fact that a person is unlawfully present, without more, does not provide officers with reasonable suspicion that the person is currently being smuggled for profit, nor does it provide probable cause that the person was at some point in the past smuggled for profit."
He also granted the plaintiffs class-action status, covering all Latinos "who, since January 2007, have been or will be in the future, stopped, detained, questioned or searched by MCSO agents while driving or sitting in a vehicle on a public roadway or parking area in Maricopa County."
The plaintiffs established "that they have standing to seek injunctive relief on their search and seizure claims because MCSO has publicly stated that it may stop persons based solely on a belief that they are not legally present in the country, and on their equal protection claims because they have brought forth evidence suggesting that MCSO engages in a policy or practice of racial profiling," the Dec. 23 decision states.
Snow dismissed the claims of two of the plaintiffs, Jessika and David Rodriguez. The Rodriguezes alleged that they were stopped and cited by a deputy while traveling down a washed-out road, while other white drivers were not asked to provide documentation.
But Snow found that the deputy had probable cause for the stop since the couple was driving down a road marked with a "Road Closed" sign and since the Rodriguezes offered no evidence that their stop took any longer than it would have had the deputy not requested a Social Security card.
In a separate ruling the same day, Snow imposed sanctions against Arpaio for misconduct in discovery. The judge found that "numerous emails and 'stat sheets' responsive to plaintiffs' discovery requests were destroyed by defendants."
Stat sheets allow individual deputies to "capture data regarding the number of contacts and types of arrests that they make during a particular tour."
The Sheriff's Office "intentionally destroyed the documents," Snow wrote, even though the agency claimed it "inadvertently and innocently discarded the stat sheets" when they were shredded. Snow ruled that the plaintiffs will be granted "permissive adverse inferences regarding both the stat sheets and the emails."
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