PHOENIX — A federal judge has ruled that the office of America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs up years of allegations from critics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who say his deputies violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in relying on race in their immigration enforcement.
Snow, whose ruling Friday came more than eight months after a seven-day non-jury trial, also ruled that Arpaio’s deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
The ruling marks a thorough repudiation of the immigration patrols that made Arpaio a national political figure, and it represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit.
Instead of monetary damages the lawsuit sought a declaration that Arpaio’s office engages in racial profiling and an order that requires it to make policy changes.
Stanley Young, the lead attorney who argued the case against Arpaio, said Snow set a hearing for June 14 at which he will hear from the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are carried out.
The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, will not face jail time as a result of Friday’s ruling.
Tim Casey, Arapio’s lead attorney in the case, said an appeal was planned in the next 30 days. “In the meantime, we will meet with the court and comply with the letter and spirit of the order,” he said.
A small group of Latinos alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio’s deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the sheriff’s office from discriminatory policing, and the judge ruled that more remedies could be ordered in the future.
The group also accused the sheriff of ordering some immigration patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters and e-mails from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish. The group’s attorneys noted that Arpaio sent thank-you notes to some who wrote the complaints.
The sheriff said that his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn’t the person who picked the location of the patrols. Arpaio’s lawyers said there was nothing wrong with sending the thank-you notes.