Racial Profiling Class Action Suit Against Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who instituted such ridiculous shaming punishments as forcing male inmates to wear pink underwear, making juveniles serve on chain gangs and bury the dead, and requiring inmates to sleep in tents, is the subject of a new class action lawsuit by the ACLU and others for racial profiling of Latinos.

The suit alleges Arpaio has been conducting "crime suppression sweeps" of Latinos in an effort to enforce federal immigration laws.

Claiming authority under a limited agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE that actually prohibits the practices challenged here, Defendants have launched a series of massive so-called "crime suppression sweeps" that show a law enforcement agency operating well beyond the bounds of the law.


During these sweeps, which have shown no signs of abating since Defendants began them in September 2007, large numbers of MCSO officers and volunteer "posse" members under Defendants’ direction and control have targeted Latino persons for investigation of immigration status, using pretextual and unfounded stops, racially motivated questioning, searches and other mistreatment, and often baseless arrests. Defendants’ pattern and practice of racial profiling goes beyond these sweeps to include widespread, day-to-day targeting and mistreatment of persons who appear to be Latino

The case is Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al. -and the Amended complaint is here. (pdf)

From the press release:

"In this country we value fairness and equality. There's nothing fair or equal about armed deputies pulling people over and treating them differently because of the color of their skin," said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda. "Sheriff Arpaio does not have the right to profile people because they look Latino regardless of their immigration status. His job is to uphold the law, not violate people's rights."

Sheriff Arpaio has made no secret that he believes physical appearance alone is sufficient reason to stop and question individuals regarding their immigration status. Arpaio has also touted the fact that he has directed his deputies to target people they perceive as immigrants in so-called "crime suppression sweeps" in Latino neighborhoods and areas where Latinos work as day laborers.

MCSO's rampant racial profiling has created a culture of fear in Maricopa County. Latinos in the community have good reason to worry that a trip to the grocery store or to work will end with interrogation by armed officers on the roadside and possible incarceration at the county jail.

The Mayor of Phoenix previously requested a Justice Department investigation of Arpaio. The ACLU says:

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has denounced Sheriff Arpaio and last April, after the MCSO engaged in sweeps in the town of Guadalupe, Gordon formally requested that U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey launch a Justice Department investigation into Sheriff Arpaio's and the MCSO's "discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests" of Latino persons in Maricopa County. Gordon has also publicly stated that the sweeps are interfering with the work of undercover city police officers and federal agents.

"Police should not be in the business of acting as immigration agents; everyone's safety is jeopardized when they do," said MALDEF staff attorney Kristina Campbell. "In Maricopa County, as in other parts of the country, when local police try to take on the job of being immigration officers, immigrants and their family members often get the message that they should fear coming forward if they are the victim or witness of a crime."

Arapaio doesn't care:

"As charges of discrimination have mounted, Sheriff Arpaio has only dug in his heels, and the federal government has thus far done nothing to rein him in," said Robin Goldfaden, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Unfortunately, court intervention is necessary for the Constitution to be upheld."

Hopefully this lawsuit will garner some attention and a judge will care.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Couldn't happen (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by scribe on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:43:30 AM EST
    to a more deserving defendant.

    It's nice to see a big corporate law firm like Steptoe taking up the cudgel (in what's surely  pro bono work) against this thug.  They deserve some love on this one.

    The sad part is, the Sheriff will be receiving a free defense by lawyers paid for from Arizona taxpayers' dollars.

    Sheriff Joe is up for reelection (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by Lahdee on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:15:25 PM EST
    this year. He is a disgrace. He needs to be gone and I will do my part to help that along.

    Most disgusting sheriff in the world (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by Saul on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 01:23:57 PM EST
    This guy will need a body guard once he leaves office. Lots of inmates out there that hate his guts.

    Some background (2.50 / 2) (#7)
    by LonewackoDotCom on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:58:23 AM EST
    1. The ACLU of Arizona is part of a group headed by someone with a series of links to the MexicanGovernment. Another ACLU chapter is directly collaborating with that government. The ACLU should get rid of the "A" in their name.

    2. See these shocking videos from a protest that was held against Arpaio. Get to know your new friends.

    possibly the (5.00 / 4) (#9)
    by scribe on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:12:55 PM EST
    Most. Appropriately. Named. Commenter.



    Certainly the (none / 0) (#13)
    by jpete on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:54:22 PM EST
    Best. Response. Possible.

    Way to refute (none / 0) (#31)
    by Wile ECoyote on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 04:57:52 PM EST
    the points brought up.  Lone is correct.

    Heh (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Steve M on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:36:14 PM EST
    The folks who protest Arpaio are not nearly as unsavory to me as the folks who consider him a hero.

    I got an email from a cousin (none / 0) (#15)
    by splashy on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 01:40:45 PM EST
    Talking about how great he is. I sent back my opinion on how awful he is, and she backed down big time once she knew more about him.

    I hope he gets ousted and jailed for his appalling treatment of prisoners.


    If there is any doubt (none / 0) (#32)
    by Lahdee on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 05:17:32 PM EST
    some reading of the Phoenix New Times should set anyone straight on Joe.

    Flunked Geography Class? (none / 0) (#8)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:01:26 PM EST
    Last I knew Mexico was part of America.

    Wonder How He Will Fare In The Pen? (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:32:59 AM EST
    Is intrade taking any bets yet?

    Well, at least there is no question of (none / 0) (#4)
    by MarkL on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:44:49 AM EST
    what is appropriate punishment, in his case.

    YEs (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:49:05 AM EST
    I am sure that pink undies will make him an instant favorite with his new buds.

    His jails serve lemon chicken, right? (none / 0) (#5)
    by MarkL on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 11:47:33 AM EST
    It should be a picnic for him.

    yeah, good luck with that. (none / 0) (#12)
    by cpinva on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:36:26 PM EST
    apparently, the good citizens of maricopa county loves them some sheriff joe. he is the only thing standing between them and the barbarians at the gate!

    i predict he'll be re-elected in a landslide, and both the suit and DOJ investigation will go nowhere.

    Not all of us, (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by Lahdee on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 05:19:04 PM EST
    there are some non-rubes here, really.

    He should be forced to undergo.. (none / 0) (#16)
    by AX10 on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 02:47:20 PM EST
    the punishments he gave out.

    Pink Undies anyone?!?

    I don't know about the rest of the stuff (none / 0) (#17)
    by cmugirl on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:05:03 PM EST
    But I never saw a problem with making prisoners wear pink underwear.  They wear orange jumpsuits or prison stripes all over the country - what's wrong with that?  I'm not talking about the abusive stuff, but I don't think I'll ever be convinced that wearing pink underwear is over the line and abusive.

    The uniforms/jumpsuits (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Steve M on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:33:44 PM EST
    are for identification, not humiliation.  There is a legitimate penalogical purpose, as they say in the biz.

    Pink Undies (none / 0) (#23)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:35:31 PM EST
    Are not standard issue prisoner garb. Whatever he says about stopping theft etc, the sole purpose of the pink is humiliation, imo.

    I think we agree (none / 0) (#24)
    by Steve M on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:39:54 PM EST
    Are you under the impression we do not agree?

    Sorry (none / 0) (#28)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:47:09 PM EST
    Need to push the parent button, fix my browser, or have more coffee so I can follow the thread....

    We agree.


    It's demeaning.... (none / 0) (#19)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:12:36 PM EST
    and being an authoritarian jerk for the sake of being an authoritarian jerk.

    I hear you, it's not that big of a deal compared to his other abuses...but whats wrong with good old fashioned white?


    You Are Into Humiliation? (none / 0) (#21)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:21:24 PM EST
    Did you also like it at Abu Ghraib? Seems unconstitutional to me, as the intent is humiliation.

    I highly doubt (none / 0) (#34)
    by cmugirl on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:17:26 PM EST
    making someone wear pink underwear is unconstitutional.  And pink underwear is not for humiliation - it too is for identification.  What is the first thing prisoners do if they escape?  Take off the orange jump suit because it's visible.  If they take off the jumpsuit and are wearing pink underwear, guess what?  People are still going to notice them, instead of mistaking white boxers for swim trunks or shorts.

    And does the same (none / 0) (#35)
    by Coldblue on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:27:05 PM EST
    logic apply to the pink handcuffs that defendants wear when being led into court?

    Let's think for a minute: an escapee with regular handcuffs would go unnoticed, but the pink handcuffs are a dead giveaway. Is that about right?


    Actually (none / 0) (#36)
    by cmugirl on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:39:32 PM EST
    Defendants in custody are not allowed to appear in court (for trials anyway)in any prison garb because it prejudices juries (and makes THAT iunconstitutional), but a judge and deputes could see them in pink handcuffs,  so yeah, I would have no problem if they wore them for arraignments and pleas and such.

    And you believe (none / 0) (#38)
    by Coldblue on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:49:06 PM EST
    that it is for identification and not humiliation?

    Oops (none / 0) (#39)
    by Coldblue on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:50:27 PM EST
    see below

    Not Arpaio Logic (none / 0) (#37)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 08:45:07 PM EST
    But he needs all the help he can get. Write him a letter with your reasoning, I am sure that it will help his case. And maybe you have some other suggestions in humiliation that can be easily rationalized as lawful. He needs people like you.

    "atmosphere of fear" (none / 0) (#18)
    by diogenes on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:07:51 PM EST
    If I lived there and were Latino, I would carry my passport around (as many people in European countries do) or at least a photocopy of the passport.  I doubt that the sweeping sheriffs would falsely arrest me for being an illegal alien then.

    This ain't Europe.... (none / 0) (#20)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:16:21 PM EST
    and having to carry around your "papers" 24/7 is a totally un-american idea.

    Imagine that...a righty wanting to be like Europe and a lefty saying "hell no, this is America"....lol.


    We might have to soon.... (none / 0) (#25)
    by CST on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:40:53 PM EST
    Isn't that what the national ID is about?  God help us... and I don't even believe in God.

    Yeah... (none / 0) (#26)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:45:28 PM EST
    the freedom to be free of papers has been eroded somewhat..I think it's a crime now to not have ID on you in most places.  National ID is super scary.

    Funny...not having an ID on me has saved me from getting "quality of life" citations on more than one occasion...the cops were simply too lazy to bring me in, and I took full advantage of my right to remain silent.  Though that will bite me in the butt one day when I run into a hard-arse who isn't so lazy.


    Aren't we essentially there now? (none / 0) (#27)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 03:46:35 PM EST
    For example I never go anywhere w/o my driver's license.

    Not yet (none / 0) (#29)
    by CST on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 04:03:52 PM EST
    You can technically drive without you license on you (at least in my state), so long as you can provide it within 24 hours of being pulled over, or somthing like that, although I wouldn't recommend it since they would probably harrass you over it.

    There is a big difference between choosing to and needing to.


    Or at least that WAS true (none / 0) (#30)
    by CST on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 04:04:31 PM EST
    It may have changed...

    why yes, the first thing (none / 0) (#40)
    by cpinva on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 06:15:51 AM EST
    an escaped prisoner does here in va is take off his/her clothes and run around in their underwear, because no one will notice them, they'll just blend right into the rest of the only underwear wearing crowd on the sidewalk.

    the pink handcuffs (pink handcuffs? he running a brothel there?) must be thought of, not as a means of humiliation, but as a daring fashion statement. what well dressed, fashion conscious inmate wouldn't want to top off their wardrobe with a pair of stunning, day-glo pink 'cuffs? really, it just completes the whole ensemble.

    Another program Arpaio is very well known for is the pink under shorts he makes all inmates wear.

    Years ago, when the Sheriff learned that inmates were stealing jailhouse white boxers, Arpaio had all inmate underwear dyed pink for better inventory control.

    The same is true for the Sheriff's handcuffs. When they started disappearing, he ordered pink handcuffs as a replacement.

    And later, when the Sheriff learned the calming, psychological effects of the color pink--sheets, towels, socks-- everything inmates wear, except for the old-fashioned black and white striped uniform, were dyed pink.