Uncooperative Arpaio Could Cost County $113 Million in U.S. Funds

Uncooperative Arpaio Could Cost County $113 Million in U.S. Funds

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PHOENIX, Ariz.—The U.S. Justice Department has filed suit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for refusing to release records and grant access to facilities in their investigation of whether his aggressive operations against illegal immigrants have violated their civil rights.

But Arpaio is not the only one threatened.

At stake is $113 million in future funding from the federal government that goes toward county services from housing to childcare. While the sheriff’s office receives about $3.8 million in federal funds, which is less than 5 percent of its budget, for the county the impact could be catastrophic.

“The health and welfare of our community shouldn’t be at risk because one rogue agency doesn’t want to provide records,” said Cari Gerchik, a spokesperson for Maricopa County.

According to county records, the bulk of the funds, $50 million, goes to public health-care programs and another $20 million to housing programs.

Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, said the lawsuit is a positive step in a long-awaited investigation over allegations of racial profiling of Latinos by sheriff’s deputies. She said she was alarmed on the potential loss of funding that could affect county taxpayers.

The 18-month-long investigation is being conducted under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination related to programs that receive federal funds. Under the law, recipients of federal funding must provide access to documents and facilities.

According to the lawsuit, any agency—such as the Maricopa County sheriff’s office—that receives federal funding indirectly through the county must comply with documents provision of the law.

The Board of Supervisors must certify that any agency under their purview is in compliance with Title VI. If they cannot, they will be barred from receiving federal funds.

The county tried to compel Arpaio’s office to release the records after they received a notice in August from the Justice Department (DOJ) announcing its intent to sue.

The lawsuit details several attempts by the DOJ to obtain records from the sheriff’s office since the probe started. When the investigation was first announced, Arpaio said he wouldn’t cooperate.

Things changed at the beginning of August, when his office was threatened with a lawsuit. Arpaio’s office requested a meeting with federal attorneys and agreed to release more records. But days later, a letter from the sheriff’s office’s attorney said they would not comply with the deadline, according to the lawsuit.

In comments on Thursday, Arpaio said little why his agency wouldn’t comply fully with the investigation and blamed the lawsuit on politics.

"They have hundreds and thousands of records," he said during a press conference, where news of the suit caught him by surprise. "Why did this happen now?" he asked.

Even though the preliminary investigation started on 2008 under the Bush administration, Arpaio blamed the Obama administration for singling him out in its effort to curtail his anti-illegal immigration sweeps in mostly Latino communities. Arpaio has been a vocal supporter of SB1070, Arizona’s touch new immigration law.

According to the DOJ, Arpaio’s actions represent the first time in 30 years that a police agency has refused to cooperate with an investigation of this nature.

“The actions of the sheriff's office are unprecedented. It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement.

The DOJ probe was initiated amidst complaints of racial profiling during Arpaio’s controversial crime-suppression sweeps on heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. But since then, the investigation has expanded to include the questionable practices within the county’s jails, and potential discrimination against low English proficient prisoners.

Arpaio is also the subject of a separate criminal investigation by a federal grand jury on abuse of power, related to a long-standing feud over budget cuts to Arpaio’s office.