Phoenix — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio stuck to his guns after the Justice Department filed another lawsuit against the toughest sheriff in America, alleging racial profiling, unconstitutional search and seizures, police misconduct and discrimination.
“I thought we were close to getting this resolved, but the sheriff got sandbagged. They were going to sue me anyway,” said Arpaio at a Thursday press conference. “They are not going to put handcuffs on me. I’ll see them in court.”
The latest DOJ lawsuit followed a series of meetings and communications with investigators trying to clarify exactly what documents the Justice Department is demanding on top of the hundreds of thousands of records already turned over since the investigation began in March 2009.
Arpaio said the Justice Department investigation began after allegations were made by local media outlets, but after more than a year of DOJ lawyers “roaming around the state,” there is no evidence of racial profiling or discrimination. He said a Homeland Security audit of his department “came out great” and showed no evidence of rights violations.
“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is part of a deliberate media strategy to ‘get tough’ on Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and undermine immigration enforcement by a local sheriff who is trying desperately to make up for this administration’s own indifference to the topic,” said Robert N. Driscoll, counsel to the Maricopa County sheriff’s office.
“The DOJ suit speaks loudly by what it does not say. It does not allege that Sheriff Arpaio or the MCSO have discriminated against anyone because the DOJ, after 18 months of soliciting allegations against Sheriff Arpaio, has come up empty. Even the purported basis for the suit, which alleges a lack of ‘cooperation,’ is a sham,” Driscoll said.
Arpaio said his department has been cooperating with the Justice Department and that the lawsuit came as a surprise. Arpaio offered investigators full access to his commanders, jail staff and inmates. The only limits placed on that access were in the interests of maintaining security in the jails.
“They demanded everything we’ve got,” Arpaio said, “including records that don’t even exist. We asked for a couple weeks, but they won’t tell us what they want.”
The Justice Department lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Maricopa County and Arpaio is for “refusing full cooperation with the department’s investigation of alleged national origin discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The department filed the lawsuit claiming it had exhausted “all cooperative measures to gain access to MCSO’s documents and facilities,” as part of an investigation of alleged discrimination in police practices and jail operations. The DOJ said it “is unaware of any other police department or sheriff’s office that has refused to cooperate in the last 30 years.”
“The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented. It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
The DOJ lawsuit alleges “discrimination against Hispanics, in violation of the prohibition on national origin discrimination in Title VI” and other federal laws.
Arpaio and his attorney characterized the Justice investigation as a political fishing expedition, but an incensed state Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of Arizona’s SB 1070, unloaded on the President and the Justice Department.
“It’s a witch hunt—that’s exactly what this is,” said Pearce. “This is the most un-American President in the history of the United States. This has been going on for a year and a half—they have no evidence against Arpaio and they know there is no racial profiling going on in Arizona. For the first time in history a sitting President has sided with a foreign government against a U.S. state. It is outrageous.”
Arpaio called this lawsuit, and one filed last week against Maricopa County Community Colleges for requiring proof of legal residency to attend classes, an attack on the residents of Arizona because the federal government does not approve of state law enforcement agencies enforcing federal immigration laws.
Arpaio accused the Obama Administration of taking sides against Arizona and trying to use him and Gov. Jan Brewer “as puppets.” They don’t like us enforcing immigration law,” he said. “I am not going to surrender.”
“I have nothing to hide,” said Arpaio. “They have no evidence of racial profiling and we’re going to continue to do our job. We’ll go to court and let the courts settle this.”
Arpaio said he will wait and see what a judge orders him to turn over, but did not rule out appealing any court order to surrender additional documentation. He noted that the DOJ has not accused him of any violations other than noncompliance with demands for records.
Arpaio said it would have been in the best interests of taxpayers to continue to work on resolving the problems out of court. He suggested the latest lawsuit is not about racial profiling or justice. Instead, it is an attack against Arizona for being on “the forefront of immigration and policy” issues.
Driscoll said the DOJ has no proof of discrimination or racial profiling, but they want to keep investigating if there is a problem, and then file a lawsuit.
“It is a breathtaking exercise of power,” Driscoll said. “Sheriff Joe is not doing anything most law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are doing except for the sanctuary cities like Los Angeles.”
Arpaio said his deputies will continue the immigration sweeps, traffic stops, pursuing the smuggling cartels operatives and illegal immigrants.
“I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing all along. They are not going to intimidate me,” Arpaio said. “Forget about me—sheriffs come and go. It is the people of Arizona we are worried about.”