By Griselda Nevárez, Voxxi
The lawsuit’s five plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, accuse Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office of stopping Latino drivers solely to question them and the passengers about their immigration status.
They also claim Latinos are disproportionately subjective to searches that are in violation of the equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment and unlawful searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.
The trial in Melendres v. Arpaio is scheduled to begin Thursday in the Federal District Court in Phoenix and to conclude August 2. It will involve questioning of high-ranking MCSO representatives, including Sheriff Arpaio — who is facing re-election for a sixth term this fall.
But first he faces charges that his office is rampant with racism.
“The evidence will show that considerations of race and ethnicity have infected the Sheriff’s immigration enforcement operation at all levels, including the Sheriff’s policy decision to ‘go after illegals not the crime first,‘” Andrew Byrnes, one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit, told reporters during a conference call Monday.
This lawsuit against Arpaio and his office is separate from one the U.S. Department of Justice filed in May against the Sheriff and his deputies. That case involves accusations of discrimination against and racially profiling of Latinos. Long before the DOJ brought forth its lawsuit, the plaintiffs for the class-action lawsuit had already filed theirs — in December 2007.
Byrnes said that though both lawsuits overlap, the DOJ case “is broader in scope” because it includes other claims, such as discrimination against Latinos in the jail system.
Arpaio has long denied allegations of racial profiling and of carrying out systemic patterns of discriminatory traffic stops of Latinos.
But Byrnes said data obtained from the Sheriff’s office shows evidence that such allegations have in fact been occurring. He said the data, which will be presented in court, also shows that Arpaio launched “crime suppression sweeps” based on calls from people who ask the Sheriff to take action against “dark-skinned Hispanics” and people speaking Spanish in various areas of the county. During those sweeps, Latinos were stopped at a significantly higher rate than at other times, Byrnes said.
“The sheriff and his team have turned a blind eye to community reports of racial profiling and refused to adopt even the most basic routine law enforcement measures to protect against it,” he added.
Cecilia Wang, an attorney with the ACLU, said during the conference call with reporters that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not requesting monetary rewards.
Instead, they are seeking to change the way Arpaio’s deputies enforce immigration laws through a variety of measures, including the implementation of generally-accepted police practices, said Wang, who’s also a lead attorney in the civil rights coalition’s challenge against SB 1070.
Among the plaintiffs are David and Jessika Rodriguez, both U.S. citizens. They were stopped by an MCSO deputy in December 2007 for driving on a road that had been closed because of flooding. After David, who was the driver at the time, presented his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance, the deputy demanded to see his social security card.
The couple was let go but was ticketed for driving on the closed road. The Rodriguezes then stopped to speak with other drives who had also passed through the same road and learned the others were not given a citation and had only been asked to leave the area.
“The Rodriguezes were singled out because they are Latinos,” Wang said. “They are U.S.-born, U.S.-citizens, but because of MCSO’s pattern of misconduct, they were subjected to different and worse treatment. They were humiliated by an MCSO deputy simply because of the color of their skin.”
Wang added that the trial will be “the culmination of a 5-year-long effort by our clients to put an end to systemic pattern and practices of racial profiling and illegal suspension by the Maricopa County sheriff’s office.
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington D.C.
[Photo by DonkeyHotey]