PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops in Phoenix and throughout Maricopa County.
With his ruling, Judge Murray Snow of U.S. District Court in Phoenix delivered the most decisive defeat so far to Arpaio, who has come to symbolize Arizona’s strict approach to immigration enforcement by making it the leading cause for many of the 800 deputies under his command at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
The 142-page decision is peppered with stinging criticism of the policies and practices espoused by Arpaio, who Snow said had turned much of his focus to arresting immigrants who were in the country illegally, in most cases civil violations, at the expense of fighting crime.
He said the sheriff relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, using their ethnicity as the main basis for suspecting that they were in the country illegally. Many of the people targeted were citizens or legal residents of the United States.
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Snow, whose ruling came more than eight months after a seven-day, nonjury trial, also ruled Arpaio’s deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
The ruling represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit. They weren’t seeking money damages but rather a declaration that Arpaio’s office engages in racial profiling and an order that requires it to make policy changes.
“For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he’s meant to serve with his discriminatory policy,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Today we’re seeing justice for everyone in the county.”
The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, wouldn’t face jail time or fines as a result of the ruling.
Snow’s ruling prohibits the sheriff’s office from using “race or Latino ancestry” as a factor in deciding to stop any vehicle with Latino occupants or as a factor in deciding whether they may be in the country without authorization.
It also prohibits deputies from reporting a vehicle’s Latino occupants to federal immigration authorities or detaining, holding or arresting them, unless there is more than just a “reasonable belief” that they are in the country illegally. To detain them, the ruling said, the deputies must also have reasonable suspicion that the occupants are violating the state’s human-trafficking and employment laws or committing other crimes.
Tim Casey, a lawyer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said the office intended to appeal, but that in the meantime it would “comply with the letter and spirit of the court’s decision.”
He said the office’s position is that it “has never used race and never will use race to make any law-enforcement decision.”
Arpaio, 80, was elected in November to his sixth consecutive term as sheriff in Arizona’s most populous county.
Known for jailing inmates in tents and making prisoners wear pink underwear, Arpaio started doing immigration enforcement in 2006 amid Arizona voter frustration with the state’s role as the nation’s busiest illegal entryway.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.