Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)

'Victory': Court Rules Notorious Sheriff Violated Constitution

"Let this be a warning to any agency trying to enforce the 'show me your papers' provision of SB 1070 and similar laws"

Andrea Germanos

Notorious Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio engaged in racial profiling and violated drivers' constitutional rights, a federal district court ruled on Friday.

"This is a victory for everyone," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

Reuters reports:

The ruling against the Maricopa County sheriff came in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by Hispanic drivers that tested whether police can target [undocumented] immigrants without racially profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that the sheriff's policies violated the drivers' constitutional rights and ordered Arpaio's office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles - some of them in crime sweeps dubbed "saturation patrols."

"The great weight of the evidence is that all types of saturation patrols at issue in this case incorporated race as a consideration into their operations," Snow said in a written ruling.

He added that race had factored into which vehicles the deputies decided to stop, and into who they decided to investigate for immigration violations.

The Associated Press adds that

The ruling marks a thorough repudiation of the immigration patrols that have made Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, a national political figure. It backs up allegations that critics have made for years that Arpaio's officers violate the constitutional rights of Latinos by relying on race in their immigration enforcement.

"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," said Wang.

"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," added 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."

The Toronto Star offers a look at on what Arpaio's kind of justice looks like:

... down on the desert floor along West Durango Street, hundreds of his prisoners huddle in the heat beneath tents in America’s most famous jail, the open-air sprawl known as Tent City.

There, temperatures routinely soar past 38 degrees and occasionally reach 60. [100-140 degrees Fahrenheit]

That’s the way “Sheriff Joe” likes it too.

“If you are going to violate the law,” he says gruffly, “you shouldn’t live better than those who are living with (hotel magnate) Conrad Hilton.” [...]

Here, Arpaio’s law prevails.

Opened in August 1993 at a cost of $111,000 — the sheriff says a traditional facility would have cost $11 million — it inspired controversy and criticism from Day 1.

“Fully sentenced” inmates, those serving fewer than 365 days, have landed here for drunk driving, unpaid child support, minor assaults and petty thefts.

For these crimes, prisoners must work either on or off-site — which can include chain-gang assignments.

Jailers point out that chain gang work can sometimes reduce a prisoner’s sentence.

Arpaio takes offence when opponents say he “reintroduced” chain gangs to Maricopa County. He claims he “initiated” them — for both men and women.

“I don’t think we ever had them,” he says. As for his introduction of female chain gangs in 1996, he says, “I’m an equal opportunity guy.”

Nor are the gangs hidden from view. Arpaio likes to parade them, putting them on display to act as deterrents for others.

And it is “free labour,” he points out, a bonus the sheriff claims saves taxpayers about $35,000 per year.

Every Thursday, for example, the gangs bury anywhere from three to 10 deceased paupers in a local cemetery.

“If you don’t want to work, you can’t be here,” says Sgt. R.T. Jones, sporting a khaki-coloured uniform, shades and a holstered sidearm as he walks the site. “You have to be groomed, you can’t grow a beard and you have to keep your hair cut in a conservative manner.”

And if prisoners refuse work?

“We’ll put you in a hard facility.”

That means “disciplinary segregation,” better known as “the hole,” a 2.4-metre-by-3.4-metre cell, where prisoners are kept for 23 hours per day. One way out is to “volunteer” for chain gang work. [...]

Tents typically have 11 double bunks or 22 beds, each with two blankets but no pillows.

“There’s a fan. There’s lights. And that’s it,” says Jones.

And there’s heat.

“In the summer, Joe likes us to come out and do temperature checks. He likes to brag about how hot it gets in the tents. So we’ll come out and do both lower and upper bunk checks.

“I’ve seen it get up to 140-something degrees,” he says.

Why the stripes and pink underwear?

“The stripes are a kind of old-timey thing. I think he just likes the look. The pink underwear? It’s just a deal where, before, they were trying to steal the underwear. He felt if they made ’em pink, they wouldn’t lose as many.”


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·

Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·

'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·

Right-Wing Supreme Court Poised to Make US Gun Carnage Even Worse

The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority could soon "obliterate even the mildest of gun regulations in service of its gun lobby masters."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Enough Is Enough!': Thousands Protest Outside NRA Convention in Texas

"I'm just tired of the NRA subordinating children's rights for gun rights," said one gun lobby opponent just three days after the school massacre in Uvalde.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo