Federal Judge Finds That Sheriff Joe Arpaio Violated Rights Of Latino Suspects

The man some of called America's toughest Sheriff has been dealt a setback by a Federal Judge.

Joe Arpaio

For years now, Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff has been both a darling of the hard right and a subject of increasing focus from civil rights advocates and the Federal Government over allegations that his department was acting in a discriminatory manner, especially toward Latinos. It’s not hard to understand why he’s been such a darling of the right, in addition to being a “law and order” Sheriff who would engage in such tactics as forcing his male inmates to wear pink prison gear, Aripaio has been at the forefront of cracking down on illegal immigrants even before it became a national issue. For years now, his department has been sending patrols into Latino areas of his county in search of people here illegally and then dragging them back to one of the large outdoor jails that he’s constructed as means of dealing with the jail overcrowding issue that has been an issue in Maricopa County for years now. It’s these very immigration tactics, though, that brought Apraio to the attention of the Justice Department. Two years ago, the Department accused him of violating the rights of Latinos in the manner he ran the program, and after negotiations ended with Arpaio refusing to accepting Federal conditions on how the program was run, he was formally sued by the United States for Civil Rights violations. Yesterday, after a trial, a Federal Judge ruled that Arpaio and his department had violated the rights of Latinos in the manner in which they ran their immigration enforcement raids:

PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled on Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops here and throughout Maricopa County.

With his ruling, Judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court delivered the most decisive defeat so far to Sheriff Arpaio, who has come to symbolize Arizona’s strict approach to immigration enforcement by making it the leading mission for many of the 800 deputies under his command at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

At 142 pages, the decision is peppered with stinging criticism of the policies and practices espoused by Sheriff Arpaio, who Judge Snow said had turned much of his focus to arresting immigrants who were in the country illegally, in most cases civil violations, at the expense of fighting crimes.

He said the sheriff relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, using their ethnicity as the main basis for suspecting they were in the country illegally. Many of the people targeted were American citizens or legal residents.

“In an immigration enforcement context,” Judge Snow ruled, the sheriff’s office “did not believe that it constituted racial profiling to consider race as one factor among others in making law enforcement decisions.” In fact, he said its plans and policies confirmed that, “in the context of immigration enforcement,” deputies “could consider race as one factor among others.”

The ruling prohibits the sheriff’s office from using “race or Latino ancestry” as a factor in deciding to stop any vehicle with Latino occupants, or as a factor in deciding whether they may be in the country without authorization.

It also prohibits deputies from reporting a vehicle’s Latino occupants to federal immigration authorities or detaining, holding or arresting them, unless there is more than just a “reasonable belief” that they are in the country illegally. To detain them, the ruling said, the deputies must also have reasonable suspicion that the occupants are violating the state’s human-trafficking and employment laws or committing other crimes.

Tim Casey, a lawyer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said the office intended to appeal, but in the meantime it would “comply with the letter and spirit of the court’s decision.”

He said the office’s position is that it “has never used race and never will use race to make any law enforcement decision.”

Attorneys for the Sheriff’s Department said that their officers had been trained by the Department of Homeland Security as part of its immigration enforcement program and said that if there were any problems, it was because of the training from DHS. The problem with that theory, of course, is that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is only one of many American police departments to have received this DHS training, and yet it’s the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that has consistently been accused of racial discrimination. Obviously, if there was something wrong with the DHS training, we’d be hearing reports of other departments elsewhere in the country having similar problems. The fact that we haven’t strongly suggests that the problems here are something unique to the the MCSO rather than something endemic about the DHS program itself.

Indeed, reading through Judge Snow’s 142 page opinion, and especially the Findings of fact that he makes during the course of the opinion, it’s pretty clear that the problems here are something that seem to be a result of Arpaio’s leadership and the policies that he’s had in place going back for years before the DHS training ever took place. What emerges from those findings is a picture of an agency that was clearly dedicated toward systematically focusing on Latinos in the name of “immigration enforcement,” which is exactly what Arpaio has been accused of for several years now over his vehement denials. This man may be politically popular, but he’s also been breaking the law, and it’s about time that someone called him on it.

As noted in the article, the Department is planning to appeal this decision, but that’s not going to be easy. Decisions such as this that are so heavily base on a Judge’s factual findings are notoriously difficult to overturn on appeal because appellate courts will not question those findings unless they can be shown to be clearly erroneous, an extremely high standard that is rarely met. At some point, it would seem, Joe Apraio is going to have to finally admit he was wrong whether he wants to or not.

Here’s the opinion:

Melendres v. Arpaio decision by dmataconis

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PJ says:

    I guess the next step in the GOP’s Latino outreach program is to defend Joe Arpaio.

  2. EMRVentures says:

    It’s well and good that the federal courts rule against him and perhaps rein in some of his atrocious behavior. The fact remains, though, that he keeps getting reelected. That’s where the real rot lies.

  3. rudderpedals says:

    Placing Maricopa Co. voters on the hook for damages ought to result in more intelligent votes next time. On the other hand it is Arizona.

  4. Tony W says:

    There is not enough money in the world to get me to move to Arizona….

  5. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Unfortunately, this kind of stuff only makes him more popular. It plays into the right’s persecution complex.

  6. stonetools says:

    So a racist blowhard finally went too far.Thank God at least for the federal government. Hope all the “federalists”, states righters and libertarians take note.

  7. Tim D. says:

    It’ll be interesting to watch conservatives who were outraged over IRS profiling of the Tea Party, defend the profiling of Latinos.

  8. so what are the actual consequences for this? It’s one thing for a judge to say “yes, he did this”, but how can they make it hurt? Can Arpaio go to jail? Can he be fined? Can it be made enforceable that they can no longer just round up dark people? How can they hurt him beyond hitting him where it hurts the most: in a ballot box, which will never happen because the rich, racist white people in his county vote for him, and the Latinos are all being kept from the ballot box?

  9. Caj says:

    Oh what a surprise…not! That guy is one hate filled arrogant person. He thinks himself above the law! Wearing that tin star does not make him Wyatt Earp!! The sooner they kick that bigoted jerk out of office the better. Get someone who does the job properly with respect for citizens rights and the law!. It’s not Sheriffc Arpiao personal law! It’s Arizona law.

  10. Hal 10000 says:

    This will only rally Arpaio’s supporters. They seem him as this great man oppressed by a PC liberal world that doesn’t understand how the real world works. Never mind that crime has gotten worse in Maricopa County compared to everywhere else. He makes criminals wear pink underwear!

  11. Tyrell says:

    @Caj: I always liked Wyatt Earp.

  12. john425 says:

    “…practices espoused by Sheriff Arpaio, who Judge Snow said had turned much of his focus to arresting immigrants who were in the country illegally…”

    Sounds like he was doing his job.