PHOENIX — Testimony wrapped up Thursday in the civil trial against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office, who stand accused of systematically discriminating against Latinos through racial profiling.
It is now up to U.S. District Judge Murray Snow to determine whether or not the Sheriff’s office violated the civil rights of five Arizona Hispanics who sued “America’s toughest sheriff.” Snow indicated Thursday that he intends to make the ruling on whether or not intentional discrimination against Latinos exists within the agency and if the policies and practices result in unreasonable search and seizure.
Snow’s final ruling will come after Aug. 16, the day attorneys from both sides are scheduled to turn in their last round of written closing arguments.
The plaintiffs – five Arizona residents who claim they were racially profiled by MCSO deputies and the organization Somos America – are not seeking monetary rewards. Instead, they want the judge to issue an injunction ordering Arpaio’s office to adopt a policy that prohibits racial profiling and defines its meaning.
Judge Snow said Thursday that if he decides to issue an injunction, he will hear from the plaintiffs and the defendants before making a decision.
For almost three weeks, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that Arpaio’s deputies targeted Latino drivers during major crime suppression sweeps, which occurred from 2007 to 2009. They say deputies would follow Latino drivers until forming reasonable suspicion to pull them over and question their immigration status.
Attorneys representing Arpaio and his office deny the racial profiling allegations, arguing that deputies made lawful stops during every crime suppression sweep. They also say deputies are allowed to use race as a factor to investigate a person’s immigration status, but only when it is accompanied by other factors. Among them: failing to provide a United States-issued identification, not speaking English and admitting to being in the country illegally.
Throughout the three weeks of the trial — which is seen as a preview of the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office — protesters rallied outside the Sandra Day O’Connor federal courthouse day after day. Four undocumented immigrants were arrested in one peaceful demonstration after they blocked the intersection, chanting “no papers, no fear.”
Following the trial on Thursday, both sides told reporters they are confident that Judge Snow “will come up with a just decision.”
Said Stanley Young, an attorney representing the plaintiffs: “Our evidence shows that the Sheriff’s office – from the top to the bottom – does have a policy in practice of discriminating against Hispanics, and we hope that the judge will enter an injunction based on that evidence.”
Tom Liddy, one of Arpaio’s attorneys, countered that assertion. “In three weeks we have not seen any evidence, only allegations, no evidence that a single deputy made a single traffic stop based on race as a single factor.”
Liddy added that deputies who were certified with the authority to enforce federal immigration laws since 2007 had received instructions from federal officials to not racially profile.
Before wrapping up the trial on Thursday, video testimonies of two U.S. Immigration and Law Enforcement officials were shown. The ICE officials said deputies who were certified to enforce federal immigration law under the 287 g agreement were taught in their five-week training that race was never to be used as a sole factor to question a person’s immigration status.
Alonzo Peña, who was the special agent-in-charge of ICE’s Phoenix office when the MCSO still had it’s 287 g agreement, said he was confident deputies were well-trained. In his video testimony, he said deputies understood racial profiling would not be tolerated.
But soon after deputies began exercising their new powers to enforce federal immigration laws, complaints began surfacing. When Peña was asked by the plaintiffs’ attorneys about the nature of those complaints, he said, “I don’t recall that anybody sent a specific complaint to me where there was racial profiling.”
Instead, he said the complaints were about 287 g certified deputies conducting minor traffic stops as a pretext to come in contact with Latinos. He also learned from several Latino leaders that the use of the 287 g agreement was instilling fear in the Latino community.
Peña said he and several members of his staff met with Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies to discuss such complaints, but Arpaio told him none of that was occurring. Peña also said there wasn’t evidence to show that the complaints were true.
Jason Kidd, who was in charge of supervising 287 g certified deputies, said in his video testimony that he attended several crime suppression sweeps and never saw the deputies misusing their powers. He said it didn’t surprise him to see that the majority of people who were arrested during the sweeps were Latinos. His reason: it was mostly Latinos who were driving around when the sweeps were held — even in neighborhoods where 5 percent of the people living there were Latinos.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who is a long-time critic of Arpaio, said she and several other local Latino leaders met with Peña and other ICE officials on four different occasions to share their concerns about the 287 g agreement.
“We told him, ‘Peña, do something,’ but he didn’t,” she said. “So we took our cause to Washington.”
Following more complaints, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security terminated MCSO’s 287 g agreement in 2009.