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Justice Department report puts spotlight on Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio


This news story was published on December 24, 2011.
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By Ashley Powers and Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times –

Armando Nido spotted the flashing lights of a Maricopa County sheriff’s patrol car. He stiffened in fear.

It was February 2009, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies were the talk of the Phoenix area. Nido’s relatives avoided parts of town when they swept through, wary of being stopped for something as minor as jaywalking and asked for immigration papers.

The deputy followed Nido, a U.S. citizen, to his home in Tempe. When Nido got out of his car, he said, the deputy ran him over.

Without naming Nido, the Justice Department detailed the incident in a scathing report last week accusing Arpaio’s agency of bullying Latinos under the guise of immigration enforcement. Justice officials are expected to ask a federal judge to order changes in Arpaio’s department, and the Department of Homeland Security has stripped county jail officers of their authority to detain people on immigration charges.

Arpaio has derided the federal actions as part of a political witch hunt, and staged a media event this week when his detention officers turned in their Immigration and Customs Enforcement credentials. “We are proud of the work we have done to fight illegal immigration,” he said at a recent news conference.

The Justice report omitted the names of victims of harassment by deputies. But by matching incidents in the report to lawsuits and other complaints, the Los Angeles Times was able to identify some victims.

Many people said Arpaio inspired paranoia, even among Phoenix’s elite. Among those hassled and indicted were critics — a group that included judges, attorneys and Maricopa County supervisors.

One critic, Republican Supervisor Don Stapley, was arrested — twice. None of the charges, which involved Stapley’s fundraising and financial disclosure forms, stuck. Democratic Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was indicted on a host of similar white-collar charges. All were dismissed.

Wilcox claimed the sheriff also had deputies camp outside her downtown Mexican restaurant, El Portal, to convince patrons it was bugged — a factor that contributed to the restaurant’s closure, she said in court papers.

“If you didn’t agree with him, he would come after you,” Wilcox, who is suing the sheriff, said in an interview. “I had fear in the pit of my stomach every day.”

Members of a citizens group that opposed Arpaio were arrested at a county supervisors meeting in 2008 for applauding and shouting. They were charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, but none was convicted, the Justice report said.

In 2010, deputies arrested activist Salvador Reza twice during protests against SB 1070, Arizona’s tough immigration law. One time, Reza said he had been watching demonstrators from across the street.

“I thought, if they can do this to me, they can do this to anybody,” said Reza, who said he was barred by deputies from speaking to an attorney both times he was jailed.

Since his election in 1992, Arpaio has made headlines for his in-your-face style of law enforcement. He housed inmates in tents, clothed them in pink underwear and served them discolored green and blue meat — safe, but unsuitable for sale elsewhere. Troublemakers were given only bread and water.

In recent years, Arpaio gained a national following when he started using deputies as immigration agents. Arizona has struggled with illegal immigration, becoming a favorite entry point for smugglers after federal authorities toughened border enforcement in California. About 6 percent of Arizona residents are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Arpaio’s “sweeps” and muscular talk — he brags that he’s America’s toughest sheriff — endeared him to many Phoenix-area voters. GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney sought his endorsement before he backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In recent months, Arpaio has publicly mulled running for the U.S. Senate.

“Since this report came out, Joe Arpaio fans are more fervent in their support of him,” said the sheriff’s political adviser, Chad Willems.

Through the Sheriff’s Department, Arpaio declined to be interviewed. His attorney, Bill Jones, also declined to comment. At his news conference, Arpaio said, “President Obama and the band of his merry men might as well erect their own pink neon sign at the Arizona-Mexico border saying, ‘Welcome all illegals to your United States, our home is your home.’”

While Arpaio said his agency would cooperate with the Justice Department’s demands “the best we can,” he has also described the incidents in the report as isolated “bumps,” and not evidence of systemic problems.

But the report and interviews show that Latino residents, including U.S. citizens, mistrusted Maricopa County deputies, whom some residents call Los Sherifes del Arpaio.

For the department to launch a sweep, sometimes all it took was a citizen’s letter to Arpaio asking whether a city’s day laborers “are here under legitimate circumstances.” A judge heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that accuses Arpaio’s department of racial profiling during the immigration patrols.

Once in jail, Latino inmates were taunted with racial slurs and refused replacements for soiled clothes if they asked for them in Spanish. Earlier this week, a former female inmate filed a lawsuit accusing sheriff’s deputies of shackling her before and after her 2009 Caesarean section. And a male inmate found unresponsive after tussling with sheriff’s deputies died Tuesday when he was taken off life support.

During a raid of a suspected smuggler’s house in Phoenix in 2009, deputies knocked on musician Filiberto Gaucin’s door. They asked if he knew about the illegal immigrants at a nearby home and then, without a warrant, searched his house, Gaucin said.

“I had no idea that they had illegal people there,” Gaucin said he told them in Spanish. “I would just go back there to throw away the trash.”

Deputies restrained his hands with zip ties, he said, and made him sit outside in the mud. They did the same to his son, Filiberto Jr., who was 12. No charges were filed.

“I’m 12 years old. Why would I get handcuffed and put on the floor?” Filiberto Jr. asked. “I was confused. We did nothing wrong.”

Such incidents frustrated deputies who tried to reach out to the Latino community and encountered what one told the Justice Department was a “wall of distrust.” An attorney for the Maricopa County deputies’ union did not respond to a request for comment.

The raids were only part of the problem, the Justice report said. Latino drivers were at least four times more likely to be pulled over by Maricopa County deputies than drivers of other races. Few stops turned uglier than Armando Nido’s.

Nido, the man hit by the patrol car, recalled how its oil pan and bumper rolled over him before he was pinned under the vehicle. He said he heard the deputy who’d hit him, James Carey, tell his comrades: “Leave him there.” Nido was stuck for about 40 minutes while deputies handcuffed his mother and tasered his brother, he and his family said in a lawsuit.

Eventually, firefighters extracted him. Nido’s pelvis was broken in eight places, and pins were placed in his vertebrae, he said. Now 30, he runs a restaurant and a cellphone store, but often needs pain medication to get through the day.

The county settled his lawsuit last year for $600,000. Carey resigned and no charges were filed against him. The deputy said the episode was an accident — he thought that Nido had been trying to flee.

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One Response to Justice Department report puts spotlight on Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio

  1. Peter Reply Report comment

    December 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Hmm. Difficult issue, worsened by the fact that people do come into the country illegally. If it were I, I would cooperate with the deputies and give them what they want. Present your papers. Be courteous and calm, even if they are disrespectful and agitated. Walk with your head held high, knowing you are legal, and that YES there is a problem of illegal immigration, but NO, you are not one of them. I don’t see this as unreasonable to ask of legal Mexican citizen’s for a time until immigration can be brought under control.