Originally posted by NPR on December 15, 2011.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a national reputation for being tough on crime, but now the Arizona lawman is in the spotlight for a different reason.
On Thursday, the Department of Justice released the results of a three-year investigation in which authorities conclude that Arpaio and his deputies are the ones who have been breaking the law.
According to investigators, Arpaio’s office was found to routinely discriminate against Latinos and retaliate against its critics, in violation of both the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act. Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, says his investigation also uncovered widespread racial profiling.
“Our expert found that Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers,” Perez says, adding that they were often stopped for no good cause. “This expert concluded that this case involved the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he had ever personally observed in the course of his work.”
Federal investigators made two more critical findings regarding the Maricopa County sheriff’s office. The first is an illegal pattern of retaliation that they say comes straight from the top of the department.
“People opposed to the department’s policies were frequently arrested and jailed for no reason or forced to defend against specious civil complaints or other baseless charges,” Perez says.
Those retaliated against include local government officials, attorneys who raised the specter of discrimination by the sheriff and even some reporters in the community.
The second critical finding is that of detention officers punishing Latino inmates with limited English skills for failing to respond to commands in English, refusing to accept grievance complaints written in Spanish and forcing inmates to sign English-language forms that could waive their constitutional rights without offering translation help.
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