Sheriff critics say they were targeted - CBS 5 - KPHO

Sheriff critics say they were targeted

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon remembers his days as Mesa police chief fondly and warily. While he was overseeing the police department for Arizona's third largest city, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies raided Mesa City Hall in the dead of night.

"This was purely retaliation because of the way I handled business with Arpaio," said Gascon. At the time, he had recently criticized the sheriff's handling of crime sweeps and immigration issues.

Gascon is one of more than one dozen public officials, judges, county employees, journalists and business owners interviewed by CBS 5, who claim the sheriff's office retaliated against them for speaking out against Arpaio and his policies.

Today, the United States Department of Justice released a report that appears to back up those accusations. The report states:

"MCSO command staff and deputies have arrested individuals without cause, filed merit less complaints against the political adversaries of Sheriff Arpaio, and initiated unfounded civil lawsuits and investigations against individuals critical of MCSO policies and practices."

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton defended two of the sheriff's targets.

"Today is, in a very real sense, vindication for those individuals who showed that profile in courage, who were willing to stand up and tell the sheriff what he was doing was wrong," said Charlton.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon was the first public official to ask the Department of Justice to investigate accusations of racial profiling against the sheriff. Less than one month after he wrote a letter to Washington D.C., sheriff's investigators demanded all of Gordon's emails, calendars and phone logs.

"In my wildest imagination when I ran for mayor, I would never have expected that," said Gordon.

Phoenix Attorney Chad Snow remembers his run-in with sheriff's deputies. It happened in 2008 during a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting. Snow and a group of activists were there to protest the sheriff's policies.

"Over a dozen of our members were arrested. Several were thrown in jail. Just merely for showing up and calling into question his policies," said Snow.

All of the criminal charges that resulted from the arrests were later thrown out.

Arpaio has repeatedly told CBS 5 News that all of his investigations were based on credible leads, but critics don't agree.

"If you were perceived to be an enemy, they would harass you. They would file lawsuits against you. They would try to defame you. They filed criminal investigations against you," said Gascon.

Copyright 2011 KPHO. All rights reserved.

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