PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the office of America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs up years of allegations from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s critics who say his officers violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in relying on race in their immigration enforcement.
Snow, whose ruling Friday came more than eight months after a seven-day, non-jury trial, also ruled Arpaio’s deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
The ruling marks a thorough repudiation of the immigration patrols that made Arpaio a national political figure, and it represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit.
“For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he’s meant to serve with his discriminatory policy,” said Cecillia D. Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Right Project. “Today we’re seeing justice for everyone in the county.”
Monetary damages weren’t sought in the lawsuit but rather a declaration that Arpaio’s office engages in racial profiling and an order that requires it to make policy changes.
Stanley Young, the lead lawyer who argued the case against Arpaio, said Snow set a hearing for June 14 where he will hear from the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are carried out.
The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, won’t face jail time as a result of Friday’s ruling.
Tim Casey, Arapio’s lead attorney in the case, said an appeal was planned in the next 30 days.
“In the meantime, we will meet with the court and comply with the letter and spirit of the order,” he said.
A small group of Latinos alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio’s deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the sheriff’s office from discriminatory policing and the judge ruled that more remedies could be ordered in the future.
The group also accused the sheriff of ordering some immigration patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters and emails from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish. The group’s attorneys noted Arpaio sent thank-you notes to some who wrote the complaints.
The sheriff said his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn’t the person who picked the location of the patrols. His lawyers said there was nothing wrong with the thank-you notes.
Young, the group’s lawyer, said he was still reading the decision Friday but noted it contained “very detailed findings of discriminatory intent and effect.”
Casey said that MCSO’s position “is that it has never used race and will never use race in its law-enforcement decisions.” He added the sheriff’s office relied on “bad training” from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A call to ICE officials in Phoenix for comment wasn’t immediately returned Friday evening.