The Board of Supervisors for Maricopa County, Arizona, voted to partially settle a lawsuit brought on by the Justice Department against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office, alleging abuse of power and discriminatory practices toward Hispanics.
The sheriff’s office conducted 83 raids on businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants from 2008 through 2014 and arrested hundreds of Hispanics.
The lawsuit alleged the sheriff’s office violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which protect free speech, unlawful searches and due process of law.
The settlement requires renewed training for deputies and policy changes, but does not invoke any financial penalties.
“The sheriff’s office put us in a situation we should never have been in,” Supervisor Steve Gallardo said following the settlement.
The Justice Department alleged Arpaio’s officers issued commands to Spanish speakers exclusively in English, refused to acknowledge grievances in Spanish and pressured Spanish-speaking inmates to sign forms withholding their rights to an attorney or hearings.
In addition, the Justice Department alleges Arpaio and his office retaliated against critics of the police department’s practices with “baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits, or meritless administration actions” with the goal of silencing future complaints. One of the policy changes from the settlement called for an “official policy prohibiting retaliation against any individual for any individual’s lawful expression of ideas.”
Arpaio’s office denied the allegations, claiming they did not restrict due-process to Spanish speakers.
Arpaio has been Marciopa County’s sheriff since 1993 and has been accused of abusing power in the past, as well as misusing public funds, failing to investigate sex crimes and unlawfully enforcing immigration laws.
“We settled the three easy ones. The big one is not resolved and scheduled to go to court,” Gallardo said. “The biggest concern is that this is not just window dressing. That there will be real change. The DOJ will hold a heavy hammer over the sheriff’s office, and there must be compliance.”
The fourth and final charge, which will be the subject of trial on Aug. 10, alleges Sheriff Arpaio’s office racially profiled Hispanics in regular traffic duties.
The last time the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against a local police department was 18 years ago, which also resulted in a settlement.