Federal Judge Rules Sheriff Arpaio Guilty of Racial Profiling

A federal court ruled on Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies violated the civil and constitutional rights of Phoenix Latinos.

By Seth Freed Wessler May 28, 2013

A federal judge in Arizona ruled on Friday that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies engage regularly in unconstitutional racial profiling against Latinos.  The judge ordered the department to immediately stop targeting Latinos based on their race.

The suit is a victory for civil rights groups and for Phoenix Latinos in general whose lives have been marred by Arpaio’s local immigration enforcement activities. The ruling is in response to a class action suit brought by the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund on behalf of Latino drivers who say they’re stopped, interrogated and detained because of their race.

The 142-page decision, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow writes:

[I]n determining whom it will detain and/or investigate… the MCSO continues to take into account a suspect’s Latino identity as one factor in evaluating those persons whom it encounters.


Thus, to the extent it uses race as a factor in arriving at reasonable suspicion or forming probable cause to stop or investigate persons of Latino ancestry for being in the country without authorization, it violates the Fourth Amendment. In addition, it violates the Plaintiff class’s right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The decision prohibits Arpaio’s department from using race as a factor in determining if a driver is an undocumented immigrants. It bars Arpaio from reporting suspects to ICE without suspicion that drivers and passengers are in violation of other state laws. 

Judge Snow’s ruling is also a subtle indictment of the federal government’s own immigration enforcement programs. During the period at issue in the suit, federal officials authorized the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office to  to inquire about immigration status and detain undocumented immigrants though the 287(g) program. The Department of Homeland Security later terminated the 287(g) contact with the county, in large part because of Arpaio’s illegal implementation, but Judge Snow notes that it was under that local-federal partnership that Arpaio was formally empowered to profile Latinos. He writes:

In the 287(g) training that ICE provided, and in other policies and procedures promulgated by the MCSO, MCSO deputies were instructed that they could consider race or "Mexican ancestry" as one factor among others in making law enforcement decisions during immigration enforcement operations without violating the legal requirements pertaining to racial bias in policing. 

The decision came days before the Tuesday deadline for Phoenix advocates to submit signatures for a sheriff recall election. As of yesterday, groups organizing for the recall still needed to collect about 90,000 signatures to compel a new election, the Phoenix New Times reports.  Now the advocates hope the court decision will push Arpaio to resign instead.

"We’re really pushing now for Arpaio to resign," Respect Arizona campaign manager Lilia Alvarez told the New Times. "After this ruling, we should not have to spend the taxpayer dollars to have a recall special election." 

Resignation would be out character for the recalcitrant sheriff. His office has said it will appeal the decision, and continues to deny it ever relied on race in it’s policing activities.