PHOENIX (CN) – Evidence of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling, and statistics showing a pattern of discriminatory traffic stops of Latinos will be presented Thursday in opening arguments of a class action trial, plaintiff’s attorneys said.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office “relied on race and ethnicity” in its “suppression sweeps,” singling out the plaintiffs and other Latino passengers and drivers, according to Andrew Byrnes of Covington and Burling, lead counsel for plaintiffs in Melendres et al. v Arpaio et al., in Federal Court.
Most of the evidence will be “about the MCSO’s policies as a whole,” including the “sheriff’s utter refusal to utilize generally accepted police practices in identifying, monitoring, and training his staff in matters of racial profiling,” Byrnes said Monday in a press briefing.
“The MCSO has recklessly set up a dragnet for illegal immigrants,” Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said during the briefing. Trial evidence “will focus very much on what the top command at MCSO has done in regard to racial profiling or not,” Wang said.
Byrnes said Arpaio keeps a file of “fan mail,” including letters asking him to investigate Spanish-speakers in specific neighborhoods or businesses. He claimed that Arpaio makes notes on the letters he gets, “that actions should be taken, and in many cases law enforcement action is taking place shortly after the sheriff is passing along these directions to his team.”
One constituent asked Arpaio to investigate McDonald’s employees, writing the sheriff: “As a retiree in Sun City, formerly from Minnesota, I am a fan of yours and what you are doing to rid the area of illegal immigrants. Those ‘public servants’ and self-serving pro-illegals organizations who are against you are just jealous and want their ’15 minutes of fame’ in the media spotlight.
“Anyway, when I was in the McDonalds at Bell Road and Boswell, (next to the Chase Bank) this noon, there was not an employee in sight, or within hearing, who spoke English as a first language – to my dismay. From the staff at the registers to the staff back in the kitchen area, all I heard was Spanish – except when they spoke haltingly to a customer.
You might want to check this out.”
The name of the letter-writer is redacted in the exhibit.
Scrawled on top of the Aug. 1, 2008 letter, which plaintiffs’ attorneys released Monday, are the handwritten words: “Letter Thank you for Info Will look into it cc Brian (For our Operation)” (Parentheses in exhibit.)
Arpaio will be called to testify, Byrnes said. The plaintiffs are not seeking money damages, but an injunction to stop the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office from exceeding its authority, and from engaging in racial discrimination.