Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Showdown at the Civil Right Corral
July 19—The Arizona county Sheriff Joe Arpaio went on trial Thursday in federal court, charged with violating the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution and Title VI, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With the entire nation focused on whether Mitt Romney is a tax cheat, Barack Obama is a socialist, and George Zimmerman’s IQ is below 80, you may have missed the news.
Arpaio is accused of a longstanding pattern of civil rights violations both in Maricopa County and in the county jail. The lawsuit is the kind of particularly egregious civil rights case not seen since the 1960s in places like Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. In this way, Arpaio is the Sheriff Willis McCall of the modern era.
Joe Arpaio is no stranger to lawsuits from people who allege he has abused them or violated their civil rights. In fact, sheriff’s office suits and settlements have cost Maricopa County some $50 million in legal dunning since Arpaio arrived. $28 million came from suits and countersuits between Arpaio and other county officials. A local paper found that this sheriff’s office is sued about six times as much as a comparable one. Another newspaper’s reporters were the victim of his civil rights abuses.
But this lawsuit is different for lots of reasons. This is a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of civil rights violations. It includes a 22 page statement of findings outlining page after page of civil rights abuses the Justice Department alleges were official practices in Arpaio’s department. The case will “determine whether Arpaio and his deputies engaged in racial profiling and discriminatory policing” the LA Times notes in a scathing editorial. And in this case, the plaintiffs aren’t asking for money – they simply want the alleged civil rights to stop.
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“At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand in hand. The complaint outlines how Sheriff Arpaio’s actions were neither constitutional nor effective.”