Snap Fact #191
President Obama’s Justice Department Slows Down A Power Hungry Bully!
Just about everyone knows Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Even if you don’t recognize the name you’ll know him by his self-named epitaph, “Toughest Sheriff In America”. Joe is a career crime fighter who has hardened into what many think of as a bigoted bully. 

For years this 79 year old self-promoting media hound has divided his energy into two missions; to harass Maricopa County Latinos and to let the world know how tough he is. He has attracted a plethora of media attention by a series of outrageous media stunts including making his prisoners wear pink underwear and marching them through the street with wearing nothing more save a pair of flip flops on their feet. Another of his many claims to infamy is that he started the first woman’s and children’s chain gangs.

This extreme law & order sheriff has held his office going on 20 years as an elected official. He heads the nation’s third largest sheriff’s office. His bulging at the seams prisons hold more than 10,000 inmates; double the number from when he took office. 

Many observers would conclude that law enforcement in Maricopa County is more about the Sheriff’s ego-reinforcement than about justice. To make matters worse, Arpaio’s reign of terror was not meted out equally to all the citizens of his county. He has a particular bias toward bullying Hispanics.

Two examples of the more than 60 alleged violations follow:

In one case, the suit says, a five-months’ pregnant American citizen was stopped as she pulled into her driveway. Officers ordered her to sit on the hood of her car. She refused. They slammed her into the car three times—fetus-side first. Next, they placed the woman in a patrol car without air conditioning for half an hour. She was released and cited with failure to provide identification. Later, the charge was changed to "failure to provide proof of insurance."

In the jails, some Latinos were placed in solitary confinement because they didn’t speak English, the lawsuit says. On some streets, Latinos were nine times more likely to be stopped than non-Latinos. And sheriff’s officials detained dozens of Latinos because "probable cause" included smelling of "strong body odor" or appearing nervous and avoiding eye contact, the lawsuit says.

The fact is that Sheriff Joe’s tactics have been under the scrutiny of the Justice department even since the end President Bush’s term, but no charges have ever been leveled until now. 
After a failed attempt to negotiate a settlement, the Justice Department has finally filed a civil suit alleging the police force discriminates against Latinos, uses excessive force, runs its jail unconstitutionally and has taken illegal action to silence critics. 

The civil lawsuit alleges the sheriff’s office has violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution, which protect free speech, unlawful searches and due process rights respectively.

"I will not surrender my office to the federal government," Arpaio commented upon learning of the filing. Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, countered, "The police are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not divide them. At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff and sheriff's office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, comprised public safety, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics."

The matter now rests in the hands of a federal judge who will sort this out. An investigation had been launched by the Bush Department of Justice in June 2008. In the closing days of 2011, the Obama DOJ released its conclusions based upon its investigation. The Department alleged substantial civil rights violations, including the use of excessive force, racial profiling, and intimidation. The result was to try to negotiate a change in attitude by the Sheriff. When discussions fell apart on the issue of embedding a monitor in the police department, the civil lawsuit was launched and a criminal investigation was mounted.

In a statement, Danny Ortega, the chairman of the National Council of La Raza and a Phoenix lawyer, said: "The wheels of justice move slow ... our community has been waiting close to four years for today, with a lawsuit that’s finally filed against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Make no mistake that our community has been under the cloud of fear for far too long. And this lawsuit in large part validates the fear that we have felt."

A DOJ lawsuit in a matter like this is very rare. So rare in fact that this is the first such action in eighteen years. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has been unwilling and unable to handle their contentious sheriff. But the sheriff is expensive—since he took office in 1993, he’s cost the self-insured county $55.8 million in legal fees.

For the fourth time, Arpaio had seriously considered tossing his oversized hat in the ring to run for Governor of Arizona. With the pressure of the DOJ civil suit, possible criminal indictment, and other pending legal challenges, he announced that he was withdrawing from the race and would remain in his current position. The lawman claimed he was doing this for the folks of his county who support his work ethic.