Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio responds to the U.S Department of Justice investigators saying he intends to cooperate with federal government’s efforts to resolve allegations of racial profiling in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson; Danny Ortega, Attorney and Chairman of the National Council of La Raza; and Antonio Bustamante, with Los Abogados and a civil rights attorney; discuss the growing calls for Sheriff Arpaio to resign from office.
Richard Ruelas: Good evening, I'm Richard Ruelas in tonight for José Cárdenas. Sheriff Joe Arpaio responds to the findings of a federal civil rights investigation. We'll discuss the calls for him to step down from office by community leaders and we'll talk to the co-author of a book written about the life of RaÃºl H. Castro, the first and only Hispanic governor of Arizona. Those stories, coming up next on "Horizonte."
Richard Ruelas: Thank you for joining us. Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio sent a letter to the U.S. justice department saying he intends to cooperate with federal officials and resolve racial profiling allegations concluded by a justice department investigation into MCSO. The findings prompted an immediate suspension of Arpaio's participation in federal immigration enforcement and the calls for the sheriff to resign continue to grow. With me to talk about this is Michael Johnson, valley attorney and chairman of La Raza Danny Ortega, and Antonio Bustamante, civil rights attorney and director of Los Abogados. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.
Richard Ruelas: We'll start right with the federal justice department investigation and Arpaio's response to it. Danny, how do you read what office said in their letter yesterday, like I said, with some conditions, they want a volume of information from the justice department back. Was that fair?
Danny Ortega: It was an expected response. You're not going to have Sheriff Joe Arpaio, yes, I will cooperate, without him showing some degree of resistance to what they're asking of him. I'm not surprised at all. The bottom line here is that the sheriff will have to cooperate, whether he wants to do it with any degree of resistant or any conditions if he doesn't want to get sued.
Richard Ruelas: What do you think about the demand for documents? Do you think the justice department will see that as cooperation?
Antonio Bustamante: It depends on exactly what documents he's asking for. It might be a delaying tactic. His lawyers might be wanting to buy him more time to pursue some other strategy. But I have no reason to think that this sheriff and his lawyers will do anything different, and what they've been doing is stonewalling and making the justice department process, the investigation I mean, difficult. Painstakingly difficult, and who knows what they'll do? They may be wanting to buy time just to get through the next election cycle so as not to lose face. And that might be the strategy.
Richard Ruelas: There was a news conference with one of the U.S. district courthouses, which some leaders called for Arpaio to resign. Do you see that having any traction? Do you think it has an effect?
Michael Johnson: I think it has an effect and it also has traction. It has traction by everyone in the south. Because any time you have any agencies that are applying discriminatory practices that are using racial profiling that the department of justice is coming back and saying in all of their investigation, this is the worst case that they've ever seen investigated, ever been involved in, this is a practice that we cannot tolerate and we must not tolerate and something must be done because this is something that's not only impacting all of us but Phoenix, as well as the businesses, the economy. This has an impact. We're going back with this type of investigation, we're going backwards instead of forwards. This is a great place to live and we have to unify and stand together and say that we're not going to tolerate racial profiling, we're not going to tolerate discriminatory police practices, we're not going to tolerate discrimination, we're not going to tolerate having citizens being retaliated against and we're not going to tolerate a system where if someone feels like they're harmed, they can't speak out and use their first amendment rights.
Richard Ruelas: Oscar Tillman joined you at that news conference. This is so far as we see with Antonio and Danny, a fight in the Latino community, how has this moved into African-American community?
Michael Johnson: I never considered this to be a fight in the Latino community or a fight in the African-American community. This is a fight about justice. This is a fight about equality. I think anyone who's been racially profiled, who's been discriminated against by discriminatory police forces impacts each and every one of us because it is the Latino community that has been impacted the hardest but those impacts really involve everyone that's involved in this. When we talk about the criminal justice system, law enforcement is there to protect and serve the people, not to violate their rights.
Richard Ruelas: Okay. Let me stay with you for one more. When you read the justice report about racial profiling and some of the allegations on it, did it seem to resonate with you? Did it make sense?
Michael Johnson: I wouldn't say that it made sense. It outraged me. The report and the things that they investigate, anyone who follows a federal investigation for 18 months, anyone who has the opportunity that the report comes back and says that this discriminatory practice is embedded within the sheriff's department from the bottom level to the top level, which would also include the sheriff, means that that whole department is infested and that they have something there that needs to be improved. And it's going to impact not only Latinos, African-Americans, Anglos, native-Americans, this type of discriminatory practice impacts everyone.
Richard Ruelas: It's also a very hard one to prove.
Danny Ortega: I think that's important, and I think it has tremendous traction, in large part because now, when Sheriff Joe Arpaio dealt with folks who were undocumented, it was very popular. And the community as a whole, we need to secure our border. We need to make sure people who are not authorized to be here aren't here. This is not about that. This is about the sheriff using the Latino community to enhance his political agenda by saying that he's going only after those that are here without documents when the bottom line is he's going after all of us. I think it's repugnant to our values that any law enforcement officer would use the total community as the victim, as in this case, racial profiling, to enhance his political future. I think the community has seen enough. Your immigration sweeps and everything you've done in the past few years are one thing but for you to target the whole Latino community and that's what the public has to know, this is about targeting all of us, U.S. citizens, legal residents and those without documents. As long as the public understands that it includes me and it includes the councilman, then it's unacceptable. I think that's why I think it's going to have traction.
Richard Ruelas: Is it spreading beyond what we see as the immigrant community and their advocates?
Antonio Bustamante: Is what spreading?
Richard Ruelas: The anger, the drive to get Arpaio out?
Antonio Bustamante: People are starting to understand. When they become aware that a federal judge two weeks ago proclaimed that the sheriff and his sheriff's office are precluded from doing any immigration enforcement of the nature that he was doing because that is not related to criminal activity is as law enforcement officers, they're limited to investigating crimes, not civil violations of immigration laws or civil violations of the other kinds of laws, when it took a federal judge to come stop that because you can't be doing that even if folks are undocumented or you think they're undocumented, the other thing that the people don't understand and that is starting to gain traction or results is anger from the community, because folks don't understand the law and the Constitution anymore. A federal judge said this is all against the Constitution, you cannot be doing this.
Richard Ruelas: The findings of the D.O.J. said traffic stop activities, Latino drivers are four to nine times more likely to be stopped. Does that resonate with what you're hearing anecdotally in the community?
Danny Ortega: We've seen it. We were involved in a lot of the sweeps and they were stopping everybody who has Latino. And he was stopping all of us. It's not right. It's not unjust, and, you know, it's contrary to the values we're about as a country. And the fact of the matter is he was stopping all of us. The courts have said it.
Richard Ruelas: You were monitoring some of the sweeps you say?
Antonio Bustamante: We've always had monitors. They're gallant members of our community who every time there was a sweep, so-called crime suppression sweep, but this was not to enforce crime, it was civil violations.
Richard Ruelas: When you say they were gallant members of the community, would you have some people out as bait almost?
Antonio Bustamante: Not as bait, although I know people who did that. [ Laughter ] Law students and lawyers. But people who were up all night, following the patrol cars, showing up where the patrol cars pulled over Latino motorists and videotaped it, took notes, license plates, asked the deputies their names. Of course, most of them refused to give it. Took down a lot of that information and it was turned over to lawyers who later did the lawsuit. It was given to the justice department. And people who sacrificed countless hours and sleepless nights documenting what was happening. Otherwise, there would be no evidence and people understood that so they did it.
Richard Ruelas: Do you know where the department of justice got their numbers or how they were able to determine four to nine times more likely?
Antonio Bustamante: Well, they interviewed a lot of people.
Michael Johnson: They finally got statistics but the end result of it is really that regardless of who you stop, you have to have probable cause to stop someone on the street or a mere reasonable suspicion that they've been involved in some kind of crime. The report says that there's no probable cause, there's no mere suspicion, it's just strictly racial profiling, stopping people on the basis of the color of their skin. And that is no reason to justify stopping anyone for any reason. And any time we allow law enforcement to get to that degree, then we're all in jeopardy, which means that any of us could walk out, regardless of who you are and be stopped just simply because you're driving a car.
Richard Ruelas: But officers are also faced with the accusation of racial profiling a lot. How is it proven?
Michael Johnson: Racial profiling is generally proven by taking the area, taking the numbers and go back through those numbers and researching those stops that the officer makes, how many stops they make, what was the nationality of the people that they actually stopped, where and when? Now that we're in the age of computers, it is very difficult to not keep those types of statistics. 15 years ago, it was difficult to find that type of statistics because they would say we simply don't have it. But now, you have people on their computers, on the radios, things computerized that they can go back and check those. The department of justice would not have made that type of finding if they did not have some documentation to actually support that. What we say any time this type of injustice and racial profiling and discriminatory police practices are being held up, then that's the problem for us as a community, a problem for us as a city, as a country, because that is not the purpose of law enforcement.
Richard Ruelas: Role play. You're Arpaio's attorney. Is it valid to ask to see the Department of Justice's findings and statistics on the racial profiling? Or do you try to enter into negotiations?
Danny Ortega: Clearly, if I were Arpaio's attorneys, I think asking for the information beyond just to please the court would be a part of the strategy of dealing with it. There's no question about it. The bottom line is that I think they know like we know that they've got everything they need to pursue litigation against the sheriff. And they would like to see what that is and if I were their lawyers, I would like to see what that is before I go forward to cooperate with them. And that's not the way it works. The way it works you try to resolve this issue and if we can't, we'll see you in court. I would try to preempt them but I don't think it's going to happen in this case.
Richard Ruelas: And do you think that -- well I mean, from the department of justice's perspective, people who have probably dealt with the law, how do you see this playing out? Do you think the next step is a cooperative agreement or court? And Arpaio in office at this time next year? [ Laughter ] I guess let's mainly get to the last one.
Antonio Bustamante: The last one?
Richard Ruelas: Yeah. Do you think Arpaio will be in office at this time next year?
Antonio Bustamante: No I don't. I think things will become so -- so much will be revealed about the shenanigans going on in his office that he's approved of or orchestrated that he'll either not be re-elected or he'll see the wisdom in resigning or if there's, for example, a federal grand jury indictment against him between now and the election, he's not running -- he's not going to get elected for anything.
Richard Ruelas: Michael, do you think the sheriff will be in office?
Michael Johnson: I don't know if he's going to be in office this time next year but I do know that after reading that report that that is just something that's unacceptable to us. I think that -- I'm not sure Sheriff Joe is going to cooperate with the department of justice because the end result of what the department of justice has said is they want to work with him but one of the key things that they've put in there is they want to have oversight, and that is a key issue that's not been discussed. The Department of Justice says that we want to have oversight literally means we want to know, we want some control, we want to see what's going to be corrected in those issues and I'm not sure that the sheriff is going to go that far to allow the Department of Justice to have that oversight.
Richard Ruelas: And final prediction: What do you think plays out with the federal justice report and will he be in office?
Danny Ortega: I would hope that he would not be in office. I don't want to make any political predictions other than to say whoever's in office should not involve himself in the type of racial profiling that Sheriff Arpaio has.
Richard Ruelas: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. And we'll see how this plays out in the ballot box and possibly in court. Thank you so much.
Michael Johnson:Phoenix City Councilman; Danny Ortega:Chairman, National Council of La Raza and Attorney; Antonio Bustamante:Civil Rights Attorney, also with Los Abogados;