[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Thursday announced the findings of its three-year civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution [DOJ press release] and laws of the US in three areas. First, the DOJ found that the MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, specifically in racial profiling of Latinos and in the unlawful stops, detains and arrests resulting therefrom. Next, the DOJ found that the MCSO unlawfully retaliates against people who criticize its policies and practices. Finally, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that the MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient, routinely punishing Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient when they fail to understand commands given in English, and denying critical services that are provided to other inmates. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez made the findings announcement, criticizing the MCSO for failing to cooperate with requests for information, which caused the investigation to to take longer than expected. Perez concluded,
The problems identified in our letter of findings are very serious. They affect public safety, officer safety on the street and in the jail, and they implicate important constitutional protections. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. Other departments have recognized this, and we are working collaboratively with us to address important issues. … If collaboration again proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.
The investigation found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, one that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections, the problems of which are compounded by the MCSO’s penchant for retaliation against people who speak out against them. The DOJ is also reviewing allegations that the MCSO has failed to investigate a large number of sex crimes.
The role of local law enforcement has garnered much focus in recent years, especially in the area of immigration control, since the passage [JURIST report] of the infamous Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], which led to passage of similar enforcement laws in other states. Critics of these laws call them “racial profiling” laws or, more aptly, “show me your papers” laws because they require all immigrants to carry their documents with them at all times for production on demand by state law enforcement officers. In November Margaret Hu [official profile] of Duke University School of Law wrote [JURIST commentary] that the recently enacted state-level immigration laws go against long-held American ideals and cultural values. The DOJ has now challenged the constitutionality of three state immigration laws, those of Arizona, Alabama [JURIST reports] and South Carolina. In September 2010 more than 500 international, US, state and local human rights and immigration advocacy organizations sent a letter [JURIST report] to US President Barack Obama expressing concern over the use of local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration law, specifically pointing to the MCSO and an example of an authority with a history of racial profiling. In October 2008 an Arizona federal district court ruled that conditions in Maricopa County corrections facilities violate the constitutional rights of its prisoners [JURIST report].