Arpaio And His Deputies Have Engaged in Racial Profiling Against Latinos in Maricopa County

PHOENIX, AZ - Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, a federal district court said today. The ruling comes following a three-week trial in July and August 2012 over a pattern of unlawful practices by Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) on immigration sweeps and traffic stops. A hearing is scheduled for June 14 to determine if further relief is necessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP represented a class of Latino residents and a Latino community organization, Somos America. On Sept. 25, a federal appeals court confirmed that Arpaio’s office cannot detain people solely on the suspicion that they are undocumented by refusing to reverse a lower-court’s ruling. Today, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a decision in Melendres v. Arpaio that found the policies and practices of Arpaio and his office are discriminatory, violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The voices of Sheriff Arpaio's racial profiling victims have been heard,” said Nancy Ramirez, Western Regional Counsel, MALDEF. “Today's decision vindicates Maricopa County community members who have long suffered from the Sheriff's discriminatory and illegal practices. We look forward to seeing much needed reforms implemented at the MCSO.”

“This is a victory for everyone,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. “Singling people out for traffic stops and detentions because they are Latino is unconstitutional and just plain un-American. Let this be a warning to any agency trying to enforce the ‘show me your papers’ provision of SB 1070 and similar laws — there is no exception in the Constitution for immigration enforcement.”

“Today's decision vindicates the rights of Latinos in Maricopa County who've been terrorized by discriminatory MCSO practices and have had their communities torn apart,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “The court recognized that racial profiling within the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is a pervasive and widespread problem that can only be addressed through substantive, meaningful changes to eradicate this egregious practice and begin rebuilding public trust.”

“I applaud the many individuals who came forward to tell their stories with courage and dignity. This decision brings us one step closer to justice,” said Lydia Guzman of Somos America. “I look forward to working together to ensure that the MCSO is not allowed to profile our community any longer.”

“The evidence fully supports the finding of an equal protection clause violation,” said Stanley Young, a partner with Covington & Burling. “We proved a discriminatory intent, through the sheriff’s own internal correspondence and public statements, as well as admissions that the MCSO uses Hispanic ethnicity as a reason to pursue immigration inquiries. We also proved a harmful effect, in the form of higher stop rates and longer stop times for Hispanics. Even apart from racial discrimination, we also proved that the MCSO improperly detains motorists and passengers without having an adequate basis. All of these violations will now need to stop.”

MCSO's rampant racial profiling had created a culture of fear in Maricopa County. Latinos and others who look or sound “foreign” have worried that a trip to the grocery store or to work will end with interrogation by armed officers or incarceration at the county jail. Today’s decision is a major step in ending that culture of fear. With this victory, plaintiffs’ attorneys will make a detailed submission to the district court by outlining steps that should be taken to put an end to the MCSO’s illegal practices.

Today's decision permanently bars Arpaio and the MCSO from detaining or arresting Latino occupants of vehicles based solely on a reasonable belief that they are illegally present in the U.S.; using race as a factor in determining to stop a vehicle with a Latino occupant; using race as a factor in making law enforcement decisions regarding whether any Latino occupant of a vehicle may be in the country illegally; detaining Latino occupants of vehicles for periods of time longer than reasonably necessary to resolve a traffic violation without reasonable suspicion that they are violating state or federal criminal law, among other actions.

The decision can be found here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund