PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that the office of America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.
The 142-page decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs up allegations that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s critics have made for years that his officers rely on race in their immigration enforcement.
Snow, whose ruling came more than eight months after a seven-day non-jury trial on the subject, also ruled Arpaio’s deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.
A small group of Latinos alleged in a lawsuit that Arpaio’s deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the sheriff’s office from discriminatory policing and the judge ruled that more remedies could be ordered in the future.
The sheriff won’t face jail time or fines as a result of the ruling.
The group also accused the sheriff of ordering some immigration patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters and emails from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish. The group’s attorneys pointed out that Arpaio sent thank-you notes to some people who wrote the complaints.
The sheriff has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn’t the person who picked the location of the patrols. His lawyers also said there was nothing wrong with the thank-you notes.
The ruling represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit. They weren’t seeking money damages but rather a declaration that Arpaio’s office racially profiles and an order that requires it to make policy changes.