Sheriff Joe Arpaio Sued for Alleged Racial Profiling and Abuse of Latino Prisoners

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio oversees inmates being handcuffed together.
Source: Andrew Cohen, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio Allegedly Not Only Harrassed Latinos But Ignored Crime,”, May 11, 2012

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) for “unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos.”

The lawsuit filed on May 10, 2012 accuses MCSO of racial profiling and numerous instances of “mistreatment of Latinos in the course of traffic enforcement.” For example, it alleges that a MCSO officer slammed a pregnant Latino woman into the hood of her car–stomach first–three times and then left her seated in a patrol car without air conditioning for 30 minutes. The woman was cited with failure to provide insurance, which was resolved when the woman provided proof of insurance to a court.

The lawsuit also documents alleged discrimination in prisons where MCSO employees reportedly refer to Latinos as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” and “stupid Mexicans.” Additionally, the DOJ alleges that the MCSO fails to provide language assistance to Spanish-speaking inmates and frequently makes announcements only in English.

The lawsuit claims that Arpaio’s intensive focus on “low-level immigration offenses” from 2006 to present has hindered the MCSO’s ability to respond to more serious sex crimes, which increased during the same period. According to the Associated Press, Arpaio has apologized for the handling of the sex crimes and the MCSO has reopened 432 investigations.

Arpaio responded to the DOJ lawsuit at a May 10, 2012 news conference, saying: “I’m not going to burden you with a conspiracy theory but I’m a little should I say dismayed of the conduct of the Department of Justice… I can go on and on and now as the elected Sheriff for twenty years they’re going after me. We’re just doing our job enforcing the illegal immigration laws. We are not racists. We do not racial profile. There is no systemic proof of that and quite frankly I’m very happy that we are being sued because now we will make them put up on everything that they have been accusing me and my office of.”

Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General, said the DOJ attempted to remedy problems with MCSO prior to filing a lawsuit. However, talks broke down in February when the MCSO refused to consider an independent monitor. At a May 10 news conference, Perez said, “Attempts to forge solutions to address the serious civil rights and public safety concerns have proven elusive.”

A spokesperson for MCSO provided a statement to reporters regarding the court appointed monitor, saying that it “demonstrates the DOJ’s real desire to control the Sheriff and the MCSO rather than to merely audit it… Sheriff Arpaio, while wanting a resolution and to find common ground, will not turn over control of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to the federal government.”

Arpaio, who faces re-election in November, has acquired national prominence over the past decade for implementing such policies as forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and live in tents. He has also been involved in presidential politics. In 2008, he served as Mitt Romney’s honorary chair for his presidential campaign in Arizona and, in 2011, he helped organize a volunteer committee to investigate the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate. Arpaio said in Mar. 2012 that he believes the document is a “computer-generated forgery.”


Mariano Castillo, “Arpaio: ‘I Will Fight This to the Bitter End,'”, May 10, 2012

Andrew Cohen, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio Allegedly Not Only Harrassed Latinos But Ignored Crime,”, May 11, 2012

Stephan Dinan, “Sheriff Arpaio: Obama Birth Certificate a ‘Forgery,'”, Mar. 1, 2012

Matthew Hendley, “Joe Arpaio and MCSO Officially Sued by the Justice Department for Racial Discrimination,”, May 10, 2012

Matthew Hendley, “Joe Arpaio/MCSO Lawyer Explains Some Actual Objections to Justice Department Monitor,”, May 14, 2012

JJ Hensley, “Arpaio Unveils Obama Birth-Certificate Probe,”, Mar. 1, 2012

Andrew Kaczynski, “Flashback: Joe Arpaio was Romney Arizona Campaign Chair in 2008,”, Mar. 1, 2012

“Will Arpaio’s Popularity Continue Amid Lawsuit?,” Associated Press,, May 12, 2012