Sheriff Joe Arpaio Trial Opens in Phoenix
Letters purporting to offer information about illegal immigrants are among a vast array of evidence to be introduced in the class-action civil rights trial against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that began on Thursday in Federal District Court here.
The elected sheriff and his office are accused of engaging in a pattern of discriminatory policing during large-scale operations known as suppression patrols, unfairly singling out Latinos — including citizens and legal immigrants — for stops, questioning and detention.
In one letter to the sheriff, a writer described dark skin as “the look of Mexican illegals,” urging the sheriff to go to a particular street corner on the northern edge of this city and “round them all up.” Another complained about people speaking Spanish at a fast-food restaurant in Sun City, northwest of here. Yet another grumbled about day laborers gathered at a spot in nearby Mesa, asking when officers would check to see if they were there “under legitimate circumstances.”
Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly and vehemently denied the accusations, and legal experts have said that discriminatory intent is hard to prove.
In court on Thursday, Tim Casey, a lawyer for the defendants, said: “There are two sides to every story. If the truth were anything like what the plaintiffs are suggesting, it would be a very disturbing picture.” Reality, Mr. Casey said, is much different. Race and ethnicity, he went on, have “nothing to do with it.”
There is much at stake for the civil rights movement. Two of its leading organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund — are representing the plaintiffs, and condemning Sheriff Arpaio and his practices is just one of their goals. More broadly, the idea is to highlight the pitfalls of allowing local police officials to play a role in enforcing federal immigration laws.