PHOENIX — Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s (pictured) anti-illegal immigration patrols are taking center stage in federal court in Phoenix.
A lawyer for a group of Latinos who filed a civil lawsuit against his department said in opening statements Thursday that the evidence will show that Arpaio and his deputies racially profiled Hispanics.
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“It’s our view that the problem starts at the top,” attorney Stan Young said.
Tim Casey, who is defending Arpaio, said the patrols were properly planned out and executed. He said they exceeded police standards. He said, “race and ethnicity had nothing to do with the traffic stops.”
The plaintiffs aren’t seeking money damages. They want a declaration that Arpaio’s office racially profiles and an order that requires it to make changes to prevent what they said is discriminatory policing.
The lawsuit filed by a handful of Latinos will serve as a precursor to a U.S. Justice Department’s case that alleges a broader range of civil rights violations by Arpaio’s office. Although not involved in Thursday’s case, a DOJ lawyer leading the agency’s civil rights case watched the trial.
Arpaio was not expected in court Thursday.
For years, Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, has vehemently denied allegations that his deputies in Arizona’s most populous county racially profile Latinos in his trademark patrols.
The plaintiffs say Arpaio’s officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics who were in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status.
“He is not free to say whatever he wants,” said Dan Pochoda, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, one of the groups that pushed the lawsuit against Arpaio. “He will be called as a witness.”
If Arpaio loses the civil case, he won’t face jail time or fines.
At a late June hearing, Casey said the sheriff wanted the trial so he could prove his critics wrong and remove the stigma that the racial profiling allegation carries. “What we want is resolution,” Casey said.
The DOJ lawsuit makes many of the same racial profiling allegations, but goes further to say that Arpaio’s office retaliated against its critics, punished Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish and failed to adequately investigate a large number of sex-crimes cases.
No trial date in that case has been set.