The Justice Department has found that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office has shown a pattern of "wide-ranging discrimination" against Latinos and retaliated against people who criticized his office's tactics.
The Justice Department in announcing its findings on Thursday morning said it believes Arpaio's office has conducted unconstitutional searches and seizures, and discriminates against people with limited English skills with its English-only policy in Arpaio's jails.
The inquiry was focused in part on 20 immigration patrols that Arpaio's office has conducted since January 2008.
The department said it found reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law occurred in several areas, including:
Discriminatory policing practices including unlawful stops, detentions and arrests of Latinos;
Unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO's policies or practices, including but not limited to practices relating to its discriminatory treatment of Latinos; and
Discriminatory jail practices against Latino inmates with limited English proficiency by punishing them and denying them critical services.
The Justice Department found a number of long-standing and deep-rooted systemic deficiencies that caused or contributed to these patterns of unlawful conduct, including:
A failure to implement policies guiding deputies on lawful policing practices;
Allowing specialized units to engage in unconstitutional practices;
An ineffective disciplinary, oversight and accountability system; and
A lack of sufficient external oversight and accountability.
In addition to these formal pattern or practice findings, the Justice Department said its investigation uncovered additional areas of serious concern, including:
Use of excessive force;
Police practices that have the effect of significantly compromising MCSO's ability to adequately protect Latino residents; and
Failure to adequately investigate allegations of sexual assaults.
The Justice Department said that while no formal findings of pattern or practice violations have been made in connection with these issues, the investigation remains ongoing.
"MCSO's systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections has created a wall of distrust between the sheriff's office and large segments of the community, which dramatically compromises the ability to protect and serve the people," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The problems are deeply rooted in MCSO's culture, and are compounded by MCSO's penchant for retaliation against individuals who speak out."
The Justice Department said it conducted interviews with more than 400 individuals including 75 current and former MCSO supervisors and deputies, Arpaio, and 150 former and current MCSO inmates.
In addition, the department said it reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Many of the interviews and much of this review was delayed when MCSO refused to provide required documents and access, the Justice Department said. MCSO finally provided the required access and documents after the department filed a lawsuit under Title VI in September 2010.
The department said it will try to obtain a court enforceable agreement and will attempt to work with MCSO and Maricopa County officials to develop and implement a comprehensive reform plan with the judicial oversight needed to address the violations of the Constitution and federal law.
The department said the reformation process would require "a sustained commitment to long term structural, cultural and institutional change."
It said the sheriff's office "must develop and implement new policies and procedures and train its officers in effective and constitutional policing. In addition, MCSO must implement systems to ensure accountability, and eliminate unlawful bias from all levels of law enforcement decision making."
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