During day three of the trial against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office, a top deputy said Wednesday that he made a “mistake” when he forwarded an email to other deputies that degraded Latinos.
The court learned Wednesday that Brett Palmer, a former sergeant who supervised the MCSO’s human smuggling unit, forwarded what he called “a rare photo of a Mexican Navy Seal” to several deputies. It showed a dog wearing scuba diving gear. Palmer also admitted to forwarding another photo titled “Mexican yoga.” The image showed a bottle of Tequila and two Hispanic men passed out drunk.
When the plaintiffs’ counsel Cecilia Wang questioned Palmer about the photos, he said he sent them as “a joke” and that they were meant to be “humorous.” Palmer added that he was later disciplined for sending them but didn’t say how. An MCSO deputy is scheduled to speak on Palmer’s punishment next week.
Wang told reporters following the trial that the photos are “not just a mistake.”
“They are an action by a supervising sergeant that led to a culture that permits and encourages racial profiling,” she said. “This is an agency where everyone in command, from sergeant right on up to the Sheriff, condone practices that lead to racial profiling.”
Wang added the MCSO is also an agency that “heard massive community complaints about racial profiling against Latinos who live in this county and did nothing to stop it.”
The office did, however, respond to other letters that constituents sent to Arpaio. In them, they were asking the Sheriff to investigate areas believed to be populated by undocumented immigrants, Wang said.
One letter was from a constituent requesting that Arpaio and his deputies round-up people with “dark skin” who were congregating on a Phoenix street corner. Another was from a woman asking Arpaio “to look into” a McDonald’s she suspected hired undocumented immigrants. She came to that conclusion after hearing the employees speak Spanish.
Arpaio told the court Tuesday that he responded to those letters, like he does with all letters, with a thank you note. The plaintiffs’ attorneys called those letters “racist” and asked Arpaio if he ever wrote back refusing to conduct an operation based on racial profiling. Arpaio responded saying he didn’t recall ever doing so.
The Sheriff also said Tuesday that he never ordered his deputies to conduct a sweep based on those letters. Instead, he delegated them to the people in charge of immigration enforcement. One of those people was Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who oversees the human smuggling unit and is responsible for planning the crime suppression sweeps.
On Wednesday, Sands took the stand and confirmed that he did receive the letters from Arpaio. He proceeded to say that the locations of several sweeps conducted were in response to several letters but only to those that indicated a law had been violated.
“If there was a crime involved, yes, I would at least look at the validity of the information,” Sands said about the letters.
Stanley Young, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, challenged those comments. He pointed to a 2010 dissertation in which Sands admits that a letter, which did not suggest a crime had been committed, possibly influenced him to conduct a sweep. That letter was sent to Arpaio in 2007 by a constituent complaining about an “unpermit mariachi band” and “illegal activists” who were “putting on a freak show” in front of several businesses. Weeks after receiving the letter, a sweep was done in that area.
Palmer, who until May was one of the supervisors at the human smuggling unit, said he was briefed before every crime suppression sweep on what was being investigated. He said he was sometimes told the sweeps were in response to complaints from citizens.
After every briefing, Palmer would then go back to the deputies he was supervising and give them instructions. He also reminded his deputies they couldn’t pull over someone based on race alone but that they could decide to start an investigation, once a stop had been made, based on race and other factors.
Wang told reporters that she believed Latinos are being stopped for minor traffic violations so that deputies could then use race to start an investigation on the driver’s and/or passenger’s immigration status.
“People are being stopped for not using a turn signal, for having a cracked windshield, for sometimes having a license plate that was loose, having one that was too dim, one that was too bright,” she said. “It’s clear from the evidence and it will continue to be clear from the evidence that Latino residents in this county are at serious risk of being stopped because of the color of their skin.”
Tom Liddy, Arpaio’s attorney, refuted those comments saying, “That is not the case. The MCSO does not racially profile.”