U.S. Justice Department Sues Sheriff Joe Arpaio

More from this show

The Justice Department has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio seeking remedies for what it claims is a pattern of discrimination by the Sheriff’s Office against Latinos. JJ Hensley of the Arizona Republic talks about the lawsuit and dueling press conferences held earlier in the day by the Justice Department and the MCSO.

Ted Simons: Arizona Republican reporter J.J. Hensley has been following the Arpaio case. He joins me now to talk about the lawsuit. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. I know you're very busy today. The announcement today from the justice department, was it a surprise?

J.J. Hensley: No. I mean, everyone had anticipated this probably since the negotiations officially broke down early last month. It took a while for them to reach this point, but the last time we talked we talked about the flurry of letters going back and forth between attorneys for DOJ and for Arpaio, and they had been point can to a lawsuit, really for some time. The sheriff's attorneys believe the justice department wanted the lawsuit the entire time.

Ted Simons: The sheriff's office, though, did one more letter here at the last minute, one more note, one more missive, talk about that, what was released yesterday and what did it say, and did it make any difference?

J.J. Hensley: Their road map to reform?

Ted Simons: Yes.

J.J. Hensley: That was an interesting thing. A lot of what was in there that they had a 17-page package they put together, a lot of it mirrored what was in the justice department's 128-page agreement that was supposed to serve for the basis of negotiations. Training, oversight, data collection, community outreach, community relations, all of these things were incorporated in what the sheriff H the one stick can point as we heard in the clip remains the monitor and what role that would play.

Ted Simons: Feds saying that was too little, too late.

J.J. Hensley: Yeah. They said, well, this is a nice start. It shows they've read our proposed agreement, and have taken some of it to heart. But the monitor is going to be the issue here. They clearly -- the feds don't trust Arpaio to implement anything himself, so they feel the need for some sort of court-appointed monitor.

Ted Simons: The oversight would be for the three things major things that were talked about today, discriminating against Latino and patrol operations and jail operations, and these kinds of retaliations against the critics of the sheriff's department. Were any of these things that were mentioned today, any of that new, different, expanded upon?

J.J. Hensley: We got a little more -- in the complaint filed today, there was a little more detail. Particularly on some of the profiling issues. The sheriff's office had made an issue for some time since December when the justice department released the findings of their investigation. And it said they found Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely than similarly situated nonLatino drivers to get stopped in Maricopa County, and the sheriff's office kept saying, 4-9 times, that's a big range. How can you even delight as a statistic? It turns out the justice department had broken the county into sections, and one section it was four times more likely and another section it was maybe six times more likely and then I think in the northeast section of the valley you are nine times more likely according to their experts' calculation.

Ted Simons: When we hear from the sheriff's department in the past, saying we're not getting any information here, we're not getting any specifics, these are a couple of Rogue deputies, a few deputies doing a few isolated things, they've been punished, did we hear anything from the feds that said, OK, here's a little more information for you?

J.J. Hensley: There was a little more. But not a lot. I think now they've said that's going to be part of discovery. This is -- getting back to what we were talking about with the sheriff's attorneys thinking the justice department has been heading for litigation the entire time, they've said the justice department keeps saying, we'll reserve that for litigation. Their point was, why are you reserving it for litigation if it's going to be negotiated? But people we talked to who have worked in the justice department say most of this information comes out during the negotiation process. There was none here so there wasn't an opportunity for that to come out.

Ted Simons: As far as the idea of the justice department suing a law enforcement agency, we've talked about this before. That is unusual.

J.J. Hensley: Very. It's happened according to Perez, one other time that they've filed a contested lawsuit against a law enforcement agency. That was in Columbus, Ohio N. 1999. That was resolved in 2002 with a settlement. So it never actually went through the court process.

Ted Simons: The court-appointed monitor, you've mentioned it, we heard about it from the sheriff's attorney up there. This is a major sticking point. What is usually the -- the Modus OPERANDi? Why would the sheriff's department think a court-appointed monitor would be under the sheriff's department's rule?

J.J. Hensley: That's one of the things in the road map to reform that Arpaio released yesterday, that person, this monitor who they envision would report to the sheriff. The justice department says that's ridiculous. They want someone who is court appointed, obviously if it's court appointed or if it comes through the negotiation process, both sides get some input on who that is. The sheriff's office is convinced that the U.S. department of justice wants someone who will take over the sheriff's office. The justice department in every other situation where they've appoint add monitor, which is common in these cases, say that that's really goes against the whole process. The whole process is designed to reform an agency from the inside, make some systemic changes that can exist even after DOJ leaves. They say to bring in a monitor who you served the power of the sheriff, which is what Arpaio keeps saying, would totally run afoul of that. You would be having the justice department take over. The sheriff's office is convinced that's exactly what the government is after. I will say the government's -- the 128-page agreement says explicitly that the monitor is not intended to take over the powers and duties of the elected sheriff.

Ted Simons: Yet we just heard the sheriff is not going quietly under that night, good night or otherwise. Where do we go from here in the sheriff says this is all politics, this didn't start until the Obama administration took over. There's even dispute on that. They sent a letter out showing when the feds said they were commencing the investigation. We've heard a lot of reports the investigation started under the bush administration. Who's right?

J.J. Hensley: Well, Perez, today, again said the investigation started in June '08. We all know in march 2009-DOJ office of civil rights sent a letter to the sheriff's office notifying them that sheriff's office is under investigation. What's unknown is when exactly that investigation commenced before the letter was sent. Clearly Arpaio believes that this was orchestrated by the Obama administration. They're saying it wasn't, that it started under the bush administration. I don't know, it's kind of one of those things, I don't know we'll ever know at this point, but the bottom line is, it's been three years or 3½ years. It's stale long time.

Ted Simons: Last point, so the judge basically considers the government's allegations. Correct? And then decides what actions should be taken if the government's allegations, the judge feels are correct? Are valid?

J.J. Hensley: Yeah. There's still an opportunity to negotiate. Both sides said they would be willing to come back to the table. Who knows if anyone will move on that monitor sticking point. If it goes to trial, then the government would have to prove their points, that the sheriff's department discriminates against Latinos, they would request some sort of injunctive relief, additional train can, policies, procedures, oversight and the judge would appoint a court-appointed monitor to oversee the agreement.

Ted Simons: So this could go on for quite a while.

J.J. Hensley: I think one of Arpaio's attorneys today said conservatively a year if it goes to trial, maybe two.

Ted Simons: My goodness. Great work covering this story. I know have you a busy day ahead of you and behind you and in all different directions. Thanks for joining us.

JJ Hensley:Reporter, The Arizona Republic;

A cactus blooms in the Sonoran Desert
aired Feb. 28

Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert

A cute little duckling with text reading: Arizona PBS Ducks in a Row Event
March 6

Getting Your Ducks in a Row to Avoid Conflict When You Are Gone

Barry Gibb singing (Bee Gees: In Our Own Time)
aired Feb. 24

Bee Gees: In Our Own Time

Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson
aired Feb. 23

The Highwaymen: Live at Nassau Coliseum

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: