PHOENIX (CN) – One of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s officers acknowledged Wednesday that he pulled a gun on a Hispanic driver in March 2008, and that it was “not in general practice” to do so during a traffic stop.
Arpaio and his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are defending themselves in a class action accusing them of racial profiling. The trial is expected to end today (Thursday).
Last week, Velia Meraz and Manuel Nieto Jr., both U.S. citizens and plaintiffs, testified that sheriff’s deputies followed them to their family business after Deputy Charley Armendariz threatened to charge them with disorderly conduct when they refused to leave a gas station.
On Wednesday, deputies testified to their side of the story.
Douglas Beeks, a former sheriff’s deputy, testified that he arrived on the scene after hearing Armendariz say over the radio that “a vehicle had come forward and tried to strike him.”
But Armendariz on Wednesday denied saying that he ever claimed Meraz and Nieto tried to run him over.
Beeks testified that Deputy Michael Kikes was already at the scene when he arrived, and described the man Kikes was dealing with as “hostile and combative, he was not compliant at all.”
Beeks said he drew his weapon and “proceeded to the area where Mike Kikes had made contact with the driver.”
Nieto testified on July 25 that Kikes pulled him out of the car, and “within seconds I had two or three other officers or posse members on top of me.”
Beeks, however, said that the only force he saw Kikes use “was that he assisted the driver from the vehicle.”
Armendariz testified to a slightly different order of events.
Armendariz said he radioed for assistance because he feared for his safety when Meraz and Nieto left the gas station and yelled, “Fuck Arpaio.”
“Don’t let the uniform fool you, because I’m still a human being who was chosen to wear the uniform,” Armendariz said.
He denied that he claimed Meraz and Nieto tried to run him over.
“At that point they were disorderly, they were aggressive, they were the reason I called for backup,” Armendariz said.
Beeks testified that he received training against racial profiling.
“If I see a Hispanic male driving down the road, I do not isolate him from 20 other vehicles just based on the assumption he is an illegal alien,” Beeks said.
Armendariz said he never received a definition of racial profiling, and that most of the people with whom he comes in contact are Latino.
“We are a Latino state … it’s not uncommon that there would be more Latinos arrested,” Armendariz said.
When U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow asked him to clarify his comment, Armendariz said, “We border Mexico; the majority of our population is Latino.”
Hispanics make up about 30 percent of Arizona’s population, according to U.S. Census data.
The court also heard from Deputy Francisco Gamboa, who denied that he slammed a pregnant woman into her car.
Lorena Escamilla testified on July 26 that Gamboa slammed the front of her body three to four times against the side of her car and put her in the back of his patrol car after he refused to tell her why he pulled her over.
Gamboa testified that he pulled her over for not having a working license-plate light. He said he pulled her over because he was concerned for his safety.
“She was yelling, at one point she was honking the horn to her vehicle, I don’t know if she was signaling for someone to come out,” Gamboa said.
Gamboa denied that he searched, frisked, or pushed Escamilla against the car. He said he called the Phoenix Fire Department when she began hyperventilating and having trouble breathing.
Gamboa testified that of the Hispanic drivers he comes into contact with, about 30 to 40 percent do not have driver’s licenses, and about half that number are here illegally.