An Arizona sheriff accused the US administration of treating him as a "whipping boy" after Washington launched legal action over alleged discrimination against illegal immigrants.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio also accused the US Justice Department of engaging in "a fishing expedition" by filing suit alleging that he was being uncooperative with federal investigators.
"Let them sue us," he told reporters in the state capital Phoenix, hours after the legal action was announced in Washington. "I'm not going to surrender."
"These actions make it abundantly clear that Arizona, including this Sheriff, is Washington's new whipping boy," said Arpaio. "Now it's time to take the gloves off," he added in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit alleges Arpaio is guilty of unconstitutional search-and-seizures and discrimination related to the sheriff's enforcing of immigration laws.
Arpaio sought to portray himself and his methods as the subject of a "witch hunt" by both federal and local officials, and that he was the victim "of vicious and slanderous remarks" from his political enemies.
"This is about nothing, they have nothing," he said angrily. "It is a fishing expedition."
Arpaio said there was also no substance to government allegations of racial profiling by him or his officers.
The Department of Justice said it filed suit "after exhausting all cooperative measures" to gain access to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) documents and facilities as part of its investigation.
It accused Arpaio of being an "extreme outlier," the only sheriff to refuse such cooperation in 30 years.
Arpaio sought to make a distinction between his reaction to such politically-motivated attacks and his department's attempts to comply with the government's investigation.
"We're working with them," he said, referring to administration officials. "We were doing great."
Arpaio said the government had not given him adequate time to respond to its request for documents and other materials.
The eighteen-month investigation accuses him of foot-dragging and stalling tactics in his response to a federal request for documents regarding immigration enforcement in the state.
Arpaio is a polarizing figure in Arizona and has gained a nation-wide reputation for controversy over his crime sweeps targeting illegal immigrants.
Yet, he has held the sheriff's job for more than 18 years, and is popular with many voters in the state. Political candidates often seek his endorsement when running for office.
Arpaio is also facing an unrelated federal investigation of accusations that he has abused his authority while in office.
Justice opened its investigation in March 2009 following allegations of discrimination against Hispanics by Arpaio. The 78-year-old sheriff has come under fire for tactics that include police sweeps in streets, factories and outside restaurants.
Arizona -- one of four US states along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border with Mexico -- is the scene of a bitter dispute between proponents of a hard line against illegal immigrants and those who defend their civil rights.
Arizona's governor approved a law that gives police broader powers to pursue illegal immigrants, but a federal judge temporarily blocked some of its more controversial provisions.
© AFP 2016