For Immediate Release
Lawsuit Charging Sheriff Arpaio Illegally Targeted Latinos in Maricopa County Can Go Forward
PHOENIX - A
federal court ruled that a class action lawsuit charging that Maricopa
County Sheriff Joe Arpaio illegally profiled Latinos can proceed.
In July 2008, five individuals and
Somos America, a Latino community-based coalition, sued Arpaio, the
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and Maricopa County, claiming
that they or their members were unlawfully stopped and mistreated by
law enforcement agents because they were Latino. The county asked the
U.S. District Court in Arizona to dismiss the lawsuit in October, but
today's ruling clears the way for the lawsuit to go forward.
The court recognized that Latino
appearance is of "little or no use" in determining which individuals
should be stopped by law enforcement seeking "illegal aliens," and that
reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation does not justify
questioning of drivers or passengers about immigration status.
"At stake in this case is a matter
of acute public importance. Law enforcement practices that target a
group based solely on the color of their skin have no place in
America," said Peter Kozinets, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson LLP
in Phoenix who argued the case. "This is a critical step in protecting
the rights of all people in this country."
The American Civil Liberties Union,
the ACLU of Arizona, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational
Fund (MALDEF) and lead counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP are
representing the five individuals and Somos America and charge that the
policies and practices of Arpaio and the county are discriminatory and
unlawfully violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Arizona
Constitution. The amended lawsuit builds upon an earlier complaint
filed in December 2007.
"We're encouraged that the sheriff's
office's practice of targeting people simply because of the color of
their skin can now be fully examined in a court of law," said ACLU of
Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda, one of the attorneys representing
the plaintiffs. "Sheriff Arpaio's discriminatory policies have no place
in a free country. We do not want to live in a place where you can be
stopped for no reason and asked for 'your papers please.'"
Arpaio has launched a series of
so-called "crime suppression sweeps" in Maricopa County in Latino
neighborhoods and in areas where Latinos work as day laborers. Maricopa
County residents and local officials alike have complained that the
conduct of the sheriff and his office go well beyond the scope of the
MCSO's legal authority and often results in the harassment of Latinos.
"We are very pleased that this
important case will be heard," said MALDEF staff attorney Kristina
Campbell. "In America we value fairness and equality, but Sheriff
Arpaio's sweeps have resulted in the harassment of Latinos and violated
their civil rights. There's nothing fair about that."
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has
denounced Sheriff Arpaio and last April, after the MCSO engaged in
sweeps in the town of Guadalupe, Gordon formally requested that former
U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey launch a Justice Department
investigation into Sheriff Arpaio's and the MCSO's "discriminatory
harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests" of Latino persons in
Maricopa County. Gordon has also publicly stated that the sweeps are
interfering with the work of undercover city police officers and
Lawyers on the case, Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al.,
include Mónica Ramírez of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; Pochoda
of the ACLU of Arizona; Campbell and Nancy Ramirez of MALDEF; and
Kozinets, David Bodney, Karen Hartman-Tellez and Isaac Hernandez of
Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
The letter from Mayor Gordon to Attorney General Mukasey is online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/
More information about the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project is online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/index.
More information about Steptoe & Johnson LLP is online at: www.steptoe.com
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