PHOENIX, Ariz. – Known for his “off the cuff” remarks and tough stance against illegal immigration, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio took the stand Tuesday in a long-anticipated racial profiling trial in which his office is being accused of violating Latinos’ civil rights.
Arpaio’s media statements, press releases, his book and his role in conducting large-scale immigration sweeps were dissected by plaintiffs’ attorney Stanley Young, who is representing plaintiffs in the class action suit
They contrasted the Arpaio who appears in front of the cameras with his behavior behind the scenes.
Arpaio, known nationally for his crusade against illegal immigration, said in court that he hasn’t changed his policies with regard to immigration – not for this four-year-long lawsuit or the suit recently filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
“We’ll continue to do what we’ve done in the last six years,” said the 80-year-old sheriff.
At the heart of the trial is proving that Arpaio’s agency had the intent to discriminate during its immigration operations or “crime suppression patrols” and that there’s a pattern and practice of racial profiling toward Latinos that remains to this day.
“I think the only way his department is going to reform is going to be through an order of the court,” said Young in an interview. “His testimony did confirm that considerations of race and language and the way you look do affect the way he carries out its responsibilities.”
Arpaio’s testimony as the head of the agency was essential to the trial because attorneys are trying to prove that the discrimination came from “the top,” and that it was fueled in part by the sheriff’s public statements and his inaction to avoid the alleged violations.
“Do you have any regrets in terms of things you have done in the area of immigration?” Young asked.
Arpaio replied, “In general terms, we’ve done a good job.”
Part of the evidence presented by the ACLU in the lawsuit includes constituents’ letters encouraging Arpaio to racially profile, which were used to underscore that there was discriminatory motivation at the heart of Arpaio’s enforcement of immigration.
One of the letters received on June 19, 2008 read: “If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin! Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegal who are here ILLEGALLY […] They bring their unclean, disrespectful, integrity-less, law breaking selves here […] I am begging you to come over to the 29thSt/Greenway Pkwy area and round them all up!...They crawl around here all day and night.”
Arpaio kept a copy of this and many other letters in an immigration file. He sent his constituents thank you notes for their support, and in some of the correspondence, like this one, he wrote notes to his staff: “Have someone handle this.”
An immigration sweep was later conducted in that area.
“Do you think fear of another ethnicity alone justifies an investigation?” asked Young to the sheriff in reference to the letter.
Arpaio said that wasn’t the case, but emphasized that he delegated the decisions on when, where and how to conduct the sweeps to members of his staff, in particular, deputy chief Brian Sands, who was in charge of running his “crime suppression sweeps.”
“I delegate these operations to my well-trained professional staff and deputies, and they make the decision,” the sheriff said.
Sands is expected to testify in the trial in the coming days.
Tim Casey, an attorney representing the sheriff, denied claims that the discriminatory letters had any connection with the decision to conduct a sweep by the sheriff’s office or that his deputies had racially profiled Latinos.
“The MCSO has not, and will not, racially profile. There were a number of citizens’ letters that unfortunately people wrote in, that were either insensitive or offensive and the sheriff made sure that at no time those played any role in influencing any MCSO law enforcement decision,” said Casey in an interview at the end of the testimony.
“Going After Illegals, Not the Crime, First”
Arpaio took the stand on Tuesday morning in a courtroom filled with national and local journalists, many of whom have written over the years about his change in priorities to focus on immigration. There were also activists in the crowd who had documented some of the traffic stops conducted by Arpaio’s deputies and testimonies of racial profiling.
The opening questions of the trial focused on the sheriff’s shift to prioritize immigration after 2005. That was the year that former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas took office with the promise to stop illegal immigration.
Arpaio is known nationally for his outdoor Tent City, forcing his prisoners to wear pink underwear and the conditions in his jails that have been denounced by Amnesty International. But in 2007, his claim to fame was his controversial crusade against undocumented immigrants, which involved immigration sweeps in Latino neighborhoods, where officers would pull over motorists for minor traffic violations. That outraged politicians like the former mayor of Phoenix Phil Gordon and civil rights advocates. These groups called for a federal investigation, citing cases of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants caught in the dragnet.
Arpaio’s immigration involvement has increased slowly since 2005. At the same time, the border state saw the growth of border militias like the Minuteman, who advocated for the militarization of the border. Voters were also increasingly expressing their discontent at the polls, where they supported several anti-immigrant bills on the ballot.
But it was in 2007 that Arpaio took his immigration enforcement up a notch by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize 160 of his officers to enforce immigration laws.
In a press conference shortly thereafter, Arpaio said, "Ours is an operation where we want to go after illegals, not the crime first...It's a pure program. You go after them, and you lock them up."
Arpaio was questioned in court by Young on that statement, which was shown in a video during the trial. He said that under the 287(g) agreement -- a cooperation agreement between local police and federal immigration authorities -- his deputies could do that.
The agreement was eventually rescinded by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano amid reports of racial profiling of Latinos. But Arpaio said on numerous occasions, and during Tuesday’s trial, that he continues to pursue the same strategy.
This seems to contradict an order issued last December by Judge Snow that prohibits Arpaio’s deputies from pulling people over based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.
Arpaio Himself Had No Training on Racial Profiling
Young inquired as to whether or not the sheriff’s office had a specific policy banning the practice of racial profiling. Arpaio said he didn’t know if they had a specific policy against it but that his deputies received plenty of training in the academy against that practice as well as through the 287(g) program.
The trial showcased some of Arpaio’s “off the cuff” statements to the media -- among them, telling Lou Dobbs that he was proud of being compared to the KKK.
But Young focused on a statement he made to Rick Sanchez, in which he said that undocumented immigrants could be identified by what they wore or how they looked, as well as other instances in which he linked Mexicans to the swine flu in press releases.
Casey emphasized later in an interview that Arpaio had not personally received 287(g) training, saying that explained why he wasn’t the best person to answer a question about how his deputies made a decision to question someone about their immigration status.
“The law enforcement deputies that are on operation cite [that] he’s the top law-enforcement officer that actually sets policy. But as you heard here today, Chief Sands makes the decision of when, where, how to do a saturation patrol,” said Casey.
But Young emphasized that Arpaio’s public statements to the media could have a significant impact on his deputies’ behavior.
Arpaio recognized during the questioning that being Mexican, a day-laborer or a corn-peddler could be considered factors to determine whether someone is in the country illegally.
Before Arpaio testified, one of his deputies, Louis DiPietro, took the stand.
Judge Snow questioned DiPietro as to why he believed that most day laborers were undocumented immigrants – a fact that led him to detain a group of men in the town of Cave Creek back in 2007 and a Mexican tourist who is a plaintiff in the case.
DiPietro said, "The fact that that type of work doesn't require any type of ... ID" makes it more likely to be taken by undocumented immigrants.
Young ended his questioning suggesting that there are two Arpaios, one for the public and another for the courts.
“Which is the truth, Sheriff?” he asked.
Arpaio replied. “Here -- what I say in court.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Stanley Young works for the ACLU. Young does not work for the ACLU, but is a counsel for the plaintiffs. We regret the error.
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