Arizona’s Maricopa County and its sheriff, Joseph Arpaio, were sued by the U.S. Justice Department for “intentionally and systematically” discriminating against Latinos.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Arizona also accuses the Sheriff’s Office of retaliating against perceived critics with “baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits or meritless administrative actions,” the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday in a statement.
“The complaint alleges that the conduct is the product of a culture of disregard for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization,” according to the statement.
The Justice Department said in December that the Sheriff’s Office discriminated against Latinos through a practice of unlawful stops, arrests and biased jail practices. An inquiry revealed “serious concerns” that Arpaio didn’t investigate crimes adequately or provide police protection to the Latino community, Justice Department officials said.
The Justice Department sent letters to Arpaio and his department Wednesday warning them to expect a lawsuit after they refused to negotiate a consent agreement. The lawsuit seeks court-ordered relief ensuring that Arpaio and his department implement policies and procedures to prevent the conduct alleged in the complaint.
“Though we provided the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with a draft agreement and were prepared to negotiate it, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office made the decision to cancel negotiations,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in the letters to Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery in Phoenix.
Arpaio’s department covers the state’s biggest county by population, with 3.8 million residents. His methods — which have included “crime suppression” sweeps in predominantly Latino areas in and around Phoenix — have made him a hero to groups seeking a crackdown on illegal entrants to the U.S. and a target of advocates for immigrants’ rights.
Phoenix attorney Joseph Popolizio, who represents the Sheriff’s Office, didn’t return calls seeking comment on the Justice Department’s letters.
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