Sheriff Joe Arpaio is under an intensifying federal civil rights investigation that is sure to further anger anti-illegal immigration advocates who regard the Maricopa County leader as a folk hero for his aggressive pursuit of criminal aliens.
Justice Department officials in Washington have issued a rare threat to sue Arpaio if he does not cooperate with their investigation of whether he discriminates against Hispanics, according to The Washington Post.
Arpaio, who is known as "America's toughest sheriff," is also under investigation by a federal grand jury in Phoenix over whether he has used his power to investigate and intimidate political opponents and whether his office misappropriated government money, sources told the Post.
The Justice Department has already sued Arizona and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer because of the state's new immigration law, heightening tensions over the issue ahead of November's midterm elections.
That suit, in turn, brought new attention to Arpaio, a former D.C. police officer who runs a 3,800-employee department in a state at the epicenter of the controversy over the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
At issue is Arpaio’s crime sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods. Arpaio defends the raids on the grounds that the vast majority of illegals apprehended in Arizona come from Mexico. Still, civil rights groups accuse the 78-year-old lawman of racial profiling.
Arpaio's attorneys told The Washington Post that the investigations are politically motivated. They cite a news conference in March at which Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was quoted as saying he expects the inquiries to "produce results."
"While we have no quarrel with the assistant U.S. attorneys handling the investigation, the attorney general's comments appear to violate federal regulations, departmental policy and state ethical rules designed to ensure the fairness of criminal investigations," said Arpaio’s attorney, Asheesh Agarwal, who was a Justice Dept. civil rights attorney in the Bush administration.
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