Racial Profiling Lawsuit

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JJ Hensley of the Arizona Republic provides an overview of the racial profiling lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that goes to trial Thursday, July 19th.

Ted Simons: A hearing will be held tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on a racial profiling lawsuit against Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio's office. Here to give us a preview of what some are saying could be a landmark case is JJ Hensley, who covers the sheriff's office for the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. Busy man these days. This is again some look at this as a pretty big deal.

JJ Hensley: it's going to be a six-day trial after the opening arguments tomorrow that takes place over the following two weeks. Judge Snow is going to hear the evidence from both sides, each limited to 20 hours to make their presentations plus a little follow-up time. He's going to make a bench ruling. So there's no jury trial here. It's them presenting facts to him from each side and he's already warned the plaintiffs, the ACLU, don't come in here with a lot of anecdotes. I need to see real evidence, which most minds means statistics and other data to back up their claims.

Ted Simons: racial profiling, institutional discrimination, pursuit of happiness being deprived. Basically civil rights violations.

JJ Hensley: We're looking at equal protection and were people unreasonably detained for extended periods of times. These claims were first filed back in December 2007, so it's been a long time coming. There are four named plaintiffs, all of whom were in the country illegally or were U.S. citizens detained they felt an excessive amount of time at the sheriff's office because they thought they were -- they feel because they were Latino.

Ted Simons: Talk about how the case did start. That first incident. Maybe the first couple of incidents. It was basically a class action lawsuit by everyone stopped by the MCSO

JJ Hensley: It was expanded in December when the judge ruled that this could be a class action suit and at that time trial would go forward. That really is a misnomer. There's no money at stake, so no one would cash in. It extends to if the plaintiffs prevail the relief that they are seeking would extend to everyone in this class. The relief they are seeking is an injunction to prevent the share's office from enforcing the law the way they have been. A man in the country legally on a work Visa was pulled over outside of a church in Cave Creek that served as a day labor center. They said I think he was detained nine hours. It was followed up by a couple who were detained by the lake and a brother and sister who were detained during one of the sheriff's crime suppression operations when they started to say things that apparently the deputies took offense to.

Ted Simons: One of these folks early on was a relative of someone from former mayor Phil Gordon's office?

JJ Hensley: She worked in his office, which Arpaio's people will make hay with. Saying this is purely political motivated. This is the sheriff's defense. These are isolated incidents. There's no systemic incidents with discrimination. The plaintiffs will try to do a three pronged approach. Here are the anecdotes, here are the statistics to back it up appeared here are the internal communications within the sheriff's department.

Ted Simons: what evidence are they ready to present? They need to show intent here and some of that internal communication not only within the department but also from folks calling in saying I think so and so is such and such, that will be used as evidence to show intent?

JJ Hensley: Showing the sheriff's motivation, and that sheriff's office associates being Hispanic or being Latino or speaking Spanish with being illegal. Some of the community cakeses you're talking about come from residents who would write in and say, there's someone speaking Spanish at this fast food restaurant or there's a group of day laborers standing on the street corner in Mesa. Why don't you do a sweep there? The plaintiffs will say this letter came in on this date, two weeks later they did a sweep there. The sheriff's office will say, the letter wasn't the only thing. We did some research and found there were problems with crime or whatever they are going to say to try to get over that one.

Ted Simons: statistical analysis you wrote was going to be presented as evidence as well. What statistics are involved here and who is doing the analysis?

JJ Hensley: Both sides are going to have their own statistical experts. The ACLU side has someone who is going to say, this is contained in one of their motions for summary judgment they filed earlier this year. That the Latino residents were from 30 to 40% more likely to be stopped on days of the sheriff's at ration patrols or immigration sweeps than on the same days when there weren't saturation patrols.

Ted Simons: Okay. Again, that's showing results, the previous shows intent. You say the sheriff's office is going to say, somewhat similar defense from the sheriff's office, that we're reacting, doing our jobs, there's nothing institutional or discriminatory about this?

JJ Hensley: Right. It's not institutional or discriminatory. The sheriff is simply listening to his constituents, which is what any good politician does if they want to stay politicians.

Ted Simons: indeed. This thing has been going on, this the first case was 2007 or something along these lines. Why has this taken so long?

JJ Hensley: There have been a couple major delays. The first was when they got the initial judge to recuse herself from the case, her sister Janet is affiliated with national council for La Raza and had made statements about the sheriff in that role that were derogatory. They got her to recuse herself. The case went to judge snow. Then there were issues with discovery. The plaintiffs felt they weren't getting the information that they needed, so there had -- they had to retake depositions, the sheriff's office produced a lot more information including some of the emails that are going to come in. The sheriff's office also was sanctioned, had to pay $90,000 to the plaintiffs last year because of delays in the trial and costs over retaking the depositions.

Ted Simons: Starts now. Again, six days, bench trial, no fooling around here. I think our attorney called this possibly a landmark case. How big of a deal is this?

JJ Hensley: It really depends on which way the verdict goes. There's going to be an appeal either way, no matter what the judge rules, either side I figure will appeal. If he rules against the sheriff's office, and I think the significance of this is really going to play out in the DOJ civil rights lawsuit filed earlier this year. If he rulings against the sheriff's office clearly the Justice Department can say we have already had a federal judge rule on this saying on these elements of our lawsuit they were engaging in racial profiling. Obviously if he ruled in the sheriff's five his attorneys 11 will run and get that Justice Department lawsuit dismissed saying we have a federal judge who ruled on our side.

Ted Simons: it's almost as the most important thing about the civil trial is the precursor to the DOJ trial.

JJ Hensley: it's not the exact same issues in play. The DOJ has additional issues including treatment of Latinos in jails and whether the sheriff's office intentionally neglected certain investigations, but the core issue, racial profiling, is going to have, could have, should have a significant impact on the DOJ case and for any other law enforcement agency who decides to pursue law enforcement in this way.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

JJ Hensley: Thank you.

JJ Hensley:Reporter, Arizona Republic;

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