News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DOJ Probe Finds Ariz. Sheriff Violated Civil Rights


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Joe Arpaio, the man who calls himself America's toughest sheriff, is not backing down. The U.S. Justice Department yesterday accused his sheriff's department in Maricopa County, Arizona of systematically violating the constitutional and civil rights of Latinos. By the end of the day, NPR's Ted Robbins reports, the sheriff was hitting back.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: The sheriff who made his name putting inmates in pink underwear, housing them in tents, and conducting neighborhood immigration sweeps, was defiant. Joe Arpaio sat at the microphones at a news conference in Phoenix yesterday afternoon and called the Justice Department report a political move by the Obama administration and a witch hunt. Then, as he's done consistently over the years when confronted, Arpaio, a Republican, said he'll keep doing what he's been doing.

JOE ARPAIO: I am enforcing the state and the federal laws. It's as simple as that and I will continue to enforce those state laws.

ROBBINS: Arpaio's department will have a harder time enforcing federal immigration laws. Hours after the Justice Department report was released, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Democratic governor of Arizona, terminated Arpaio's access to federal immigration databases. Arpaio called it a sad day for America.

ARPAIO: Illegal criminal offenders arrested and brought into our jails will go undetected and ultimately dumped back onto a street near you.

ROBBINS: It's unclear why any criminal suspect would be released. Arpaio also claims the federal action will lead to waves of new illegal immigrants entering the country. The Justice Department report accuses the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department of racial profiling, stopping Latino drivers four to nine times more often than non-Latinos in similar situations.

The head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, also says the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, or MCSO, violates the Civil Rights Act in its jails.

THOMAS PEREZ: MCSO routinely punishes Latino inmates that are limited English proficient when they fail to understand commands that are given in English and also denies critical services that are provided to other inmates.

ROBBINS: The report says the sheriff illegally retaliates against critics of his policies, including arresting them. Arpaio would not answer specific allegations, but he said incidents in the report are isolated.

ARPAIO: When you arrest on the streets and in our jails 50,000 people - 50,000 - and you get a couple complaints, that happens in any type of crime.

ROBBINS: The Justice Department, though, says there is a widespread pattern of abuse. It also says it's still investigating charges of excessive use of force against Latinos, poor policing of Latino neighborhoods, and a failure to investigate sex crimes. Sheriff Arpaio says he's taking care of that problem. Thomas Perez says he wants to bring community leaders together with the sheriff to reform the department.

PEREZ: Because it is clear to me that this community is divided and it is time to heal.

ROBBINS: Arpaio's department has 60 days to come up with a plan. Otherwise, the sheriff may end up in federal court. Arpaio's critics quickly called for him to resign. But the man who's made his name talking tough says that's not going to happen.

Ted Robbins, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.