PHOENIX (CN) – Personal stories about Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s officers’ treatment of Latino citizens took center stage Wednesday in the federal class action trial.
Daniel Magos, a 67-year-old maintenance worker, tearfully described feeling “humiliated, worthless, defenseless” after he was pulled over and searched by a sheriff’s deputy while on his way to a job site.
When the deputy pulled over Magos and his wife, who was riding in the front passenger seat, he “was yelling at us, and he never addressed us in a civil manner,” Magos said.
The deputy told Magos, a Chihuahua-born U.S. citizen, that he had pulled him over because there was no license plate on his trailer, but Magos said the deputy could not have seen the back of the trailer when he made a U-turn to pull him over.
“The deputy asked me if I was carrying any drugs, any weapons, or any bazookas in my truck,” Magos said. “I told him I was not carrying any bazookas or drugs, but I told him I was carrying a handgun.”
The deputy told Magos to get out of the truck so that he could search him.
“I asked him why I was being searched, and he said I was being searched for weapons and drugs,” Magos said. “I told the deputy if he searched me it was against my consent.
“He searched my underarms, my sides, my groin area,” Magos said, choking back tears.
After the search, the deputy told Magos he was free to go, and apologized for “yelling and screaming and scaring us on the stop.”
Magos, who is not a named plaintiff in the class action, was not cited for a traffic violation.
“After his apology, he told me that stop had nothing to do with racial profiling,” Magos said. “I told him that was exactly what that was.”
The court also heard testimony from Velia Meraz and Manuel Nieto Jr., both U.S. citizens and plaintiffs, who claim sheriff’s deputies followed them to their family business on March 28, 2008 after a deputy threatened to charge them with disorderly conduct when they refused to leave a gas station.
“We went to the gas station right down the street from the shop to buy some Gatorade and some cigarettes,” Nieto said. At the station, he said that he and his sister, Meraz, spotted a sheriff’s deputy with two detainees at the gas pumps.
Nieto, 37, who was driving, said the deputy approached his sister on the front passenger side of her black Chevy Suburban and said, “You need to leave now.”
Nieto said he asked the deputy, “What did we do wrong?” and the deputy responded, “You need to leave now or I’m going to arrest you for disorderly conduct.”
Nieto said he and his sister left the gas station immediately and returned to their auto shop, then heard sirens.
Meraz, 39, said that out their way out of the gas station, she yelled to the detainees in Spanish, “Don’t sign anything you don’t understand, and provide your names only.”
When they reached the auto shop, Nieto testified, he saw “a motorcycle officer in back of us. It was chaos.”
Nieto, who weeks before the incident had been released from prison on a burglary charge, said he was scared, so he called 911 from inside of the SUV. When the motorcycle deputy approached his door and told him to get out of the vehicle, Nieto said he was on the phone with 911, and the deputy told him, “I don’t care who you are on the phone with, get out of the vehicle.”
The motorcycle deputy pulled Nieto out of the car, and “within seconds I had two or three other officers or posse members on top of me.”
“I was being harassed, I feared for my life,” Nieto said.
While Nieto was on the ground, Meraz had slowly got out of the SUV and was standing at the front of the shop with her father came outside and asked deputies, “What’s going on? What’s wrong? Why are you guys doing that to him?”
When their father said, “Those are my children, they’re U.S. citizens,” the deputies backed off, Meraz said.
Nieto and Meraz were not cited after they provided deputies with identification.
Michael Kikes, the motorcycle deputy who pulled over Nieto and Meraz, told a different story on the stand.
Kikes said he went to the gas station after receiving an “anxious type of radio transmission.”
Kikes said that when he tried to pull over the SUV, Nieto did not pull over to the right, but turned left into his family business. despite Kikes’ requests over the motorcycle’s P.A. system to pull over.
Kikes said he kept asking Nieto to “step out of the vehicle,” and once he got him out, he took him to the back of the vehicle, where he handcuffed him while he checked his identification.
“He never obeyed or wanted to respond to us in any shape of form,” Kikes said. He said he never touched Nieto except to help him out of the vehicle and to sit him on the rear bumper.
Kikes denied that he racially profiled Nieto’s, claiming that the windows of the Suburban were tinted and that he was focusing on Nieto’s eyes and his motions.
The trial continues today.
Testimony is expected to conclude on Thursday, Aug. 2.