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Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Mounting Storm of Anti-Latino Bias, Prisoner Abuse, Sex-Crimes Negligence

StoryDecember 22, 2011
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The controversy around Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is growing by the day. In a scathing report, the Justice Department has accused Arpaio of “wide-ranging discrimination against Latinos,” leading federal authorities to suspend Arpaio’s access to programs under which undocumented immigrants are handed over from his jail for deportation. “The federal government was using Arpaio as sort of a showcase, a model for its 287(g) program, in allowing local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws… But it failed miserably,” says Stephen Lemons, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times. Arpaio has faced growing calls to resign amidst mounting evidence that his police department failed to properly investigate more than 400 sex crime and homicide cases. On Monday, an immigrant woman sued Arpaio for cruel and unusual punishment, because she was shackled to her hospital bed before and after delivering her child by cesarean section in police custody. And a Latino Army veteran died Tuesday after he was found unresponsive in his jail cell with taser marks on his body. Arpaio has vowed not to resign and says he plans to run for re-election next year. “People are literally dying because of the culture of intimidation, harassment and discrimination taking place in those jails,” says Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona. “What’s even more shameful is this culture of silence by Republican leaders, from the governor on down, who refuse to take a stand and [are] basically saying Latinos do not matter in the state of Arizona.” [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 11, 2012The U.S. v. Joe Arpaio: Justice Department Sues Arizona Sheriff for Racial Profiling of Latinos
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to a scathing report issued last week by the Justice Department that accuses prominent Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, self-proclaimed the toughest sheriff in America, quote, of a “wide-ranging discrimination against Latinos.” On the basis of a detailed review of documents, federal investigators found that Latino drivers in Phoenix’s Maricopa County were four to nine times more likely to be stopped by Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies than similarly situated non-Latino drivers. They found that a fifth of such stops were unjustified, in violation of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. And they found that the sheriff’s office routinely responded to intelligence from citizens who reported gatherings of dark-skinned or Spanish-speaking individuals. The findings could subject Arpaio to court-ordered reforms. The sheriff has denied the allegations.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: The work we have done to fight illegal immigration, we have been responsible for finding and identifying 25 percent of the nation’s illegal alien criminal offenders in our jails. Sadly, much of that work will no longer be permitted by the Obama administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Following the release of the Justice Department’s report, federal authorities announced they would suspend Arpaio’s access to programs under which undocumented immigrants are handed over from his jail for deportation. On Wednesday, dozens of his jail officers lined up at a press conference and ceremoniously handed in their federal credentials. Immigration officials say federal monitors will now verify the immigration status of inmates. Here again is Sheriff Arpaio.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: We’re probably the most trained law enforcement agency in the United States. Who else goes through five weeks of training by Homeland Security? And yet, they’re saying we don’t know what we are doing. What is the rush? Common sense and good management would be, “OK, Sheriff, we’re going to take away your authority, but please keep doing it ’til we can get our 50 officers to take over.” No, they kicked us out, putting public safety at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Justice’s damning report on Sheriff Arpaio comes at a time when he has faced growing calls to resign, following mounting evidence his police department failed to properly investigate more than 400 sex crime cases.

Meanwhile, Monday, a woman arrested for using false documents to obtain work sued Arpaio for cruel and unusual punishment. The woman, who gave birth in police custody, said she was shackled to her hospital bed before and after delivering her child by cesarean section.

And earlier this week, a Latino Army veteran found unresponsive in his Maricopa County jail cell died on Tuesday. The family of 44-year-old Ernest Atencio said he had taser marks on his body.

Despite all of this, Sheriff Arpaio has vowed not to resign and says he plans to run for re-election next year.

Well, for more, we’re joined from Phoenix by Randy Parraz, president of Citizens for a Better Arizona. The group led a successful recall effort against State Senator Russell Pearce, the leading lawmaker behind the anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070. Now they’re focusing on Sheriff Arpaio.

We’re also joined by Stephen Lemons, longtime reporter with the Phoenix New Times, who has closely followed Arpaio’s enforcement practices. He’s joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he’s on holiday.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Steve Lemons, talk about the latest Justice Department report, as well as the latest lawsuit by the woman shackled as she’s giving birth and the sheriff’s deputies handing in their credentials.

STEPHEN LEMONS: Well, the Justice Department report was three years in coming. The civil investigation by the Justice Department has been ongoing since early in 2008, so it’s over three years. The findings—it was in the form of a letter of findings to the county attorney. And the findings were, as you’ve already mentioned, very damning. It accused and found that Arpaio has engaged in discriminatory police practices. They also found that Arpaio had retaliated against his enemies. And, you know, there are other misdeeds as far as mistreatment, systemic mistreatment, of Latinos in his jails.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s reported Arpaio for any length of time. In fact, I would say that even though the current report deals with the MCSO’s relationship to the Latino community and how they mistreat Latinos in their custody and Latinos they’re stopping, nevertheless, you know, Arpaio has been in power for almost—going on 20 years now. And he’s maintained a culture of cruelty which touches all races. The case you cite, as far as the lady who was shackled before and after her cesarean section, is a case in point. You know, the MCSO doesn’t just shackle Latinos who are pregnant; it shackles all women who are pregnant and about to give birth. And there are other examples of this in the history of, you know, Arpaio’s reign.

So, as far as the fallout from the Justice Department’s report—I mean, it’s a very positive thing, in some regards, to those who have been critical of Arpaio. It validates a lot of what’s been said and already been reported. They use a lot of information that has already been in the press, that is familiar to people in Maricopa County, but perhaps not out of Maricopa County.

The immediate fallout from it was the Immigration and Customs Enforcement jerking Arpaio’s 287(g) agreement in the jails, which allowed some of his officers to act as, you know, junior ICE agents, and they had federal authority. The screening of inmates in the jails is supposed to continue, but with ICE agents instead of Arpaio’s men and women. He had already been restricted in the use of his 287(g) authority back in 2009. The 287(g) authority extends to 2007, and what’s interesting about that is that the federal government was using Arpaio as sort of a showcase, a model for its 287(g) program, in allowing local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, supposedly under the aegis of the—or watch of the federal government. But it failed miserably. Arpaio used that authority to begin sweeps of Latino communities and almost instantly turned his law enforcement agency into a mini version of ICE, but with ill effect and terrorizing large segments of Maricopa County. So, they had—they took away his field authority for 287(g) in 2009. And so, now they’ve finally taken away his 287(g) authority in the jails. However, it’s interesting to note that they were complicit in many of the human rights abuses that are documented in the Civil Rights Division’s report. So, where the rubber meets the road is the taking away of that 287(g) authority. There could be further fallout if Arpaio does not cooperate with the Justice Department in some sort of consent decree monitored by a federal judge. They’ve given him 60 days to cooperate, essentially.

And Arpaio, you know, this is sort of a two-edged sword, in some ways. Arpaio loves this sort of thing. He loves going up against the Obama administration. He loves going up against the federal government. He uses these sorts of conflicts with the federal government to raise money for his campaign kitty, which at last count was about $3 million. He boasts he has over $6 million now in his campaign re-election fund. And as you’ve noted, he’s going to be running for re-election in 2012. This is also, unfortunately, very popular in Maricopa County, at least with a majority of the population who, you know, may have problems with some of what Arpaio does, his misspending of funds and so forth, but when it comes to discriminating against brown people, unfortunately, that is popular with some segments of Maricopa County.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to bring in Randy Parraz—

STEPHEN LEMONS: So, he’s going—he may use—go ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —if I could, Steve. Randy, one of the—one of the parts of the Justice Department report talks about how Sheriff Arpaio targeted his political enemies to use his law enforcement powers against, and you were specifically mentioned in the report. Could you talk about what happened to you and your reaction to the Justice Department report?

RANDY PARRAZ: Yes. Well, thank you. I was part of a group in 2008 called Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability. It was a grassroots effort by citizens who wanted to come before the board of supervisors, because they’re the ones that have the budgetary control over Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. So we were there to raise issues about, you know, uninvestigated sex crimes back then. A report had just came out from the East Valley Tribune, where they were talking about over $40 million in legal lawsuits that he was responsible for, delayed emergency response times, racial profiling. And as we were doing that, we kept going back, month after month.

And finally, in September of 2008, I was asked to leave a meeting. I was outside in front of the public—board of supervisors building, outside, and I was approached by numerous deputies. They came up on me. And after a short period of time, within a short conversation, I was ordered to be arrested by the Chief Deputy Trombi and from Sheriff Arpaio. I was arrested, booked, handcuffed. Once I got down there, they leg-shackled me, walked me to my cell, kept me in solitary confinement all day, took me to the judge, charged me with criminal trespass and in the afternoon charged me again with disorderly conduct. Eleven months later, both those charges were thrown out of court. They had so limited evidence to even make those cases—make the cases that I didn’t have to even put up a defense. So these were some of the things.

In addition to my arrest, shortly thereafter, at a subsequent meeting, other people were arrested for clapping inside. While their names were being called to come forward, the sheriff deputies arrested individuals there. Four other women were arrested on the 10th floor of the board of supervisors building when they were sitting in a chair waiting to speak to the chairman, Andrew Kunasek. The sheriff deputies intervened there and then again arrested those women. And all of these charges were dismissed. None of these charges were proved. And not only that, I think those cases of some of these arrests resulted in close to $500,000 in settlements, because people’s constitutional rights were violated.

So, this is a sheriff right now who is in denial. This is a sheriff who is out of control, who has violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, of our right to freedom of speech, our right to assemble, and our right to petition our government. It’s a sad day—it’s a very sad day here in Maricopa County, where this sheriff has been allowed to go untouched by any other power and authority. And so, we’re very grateful that, finally, the Department of Justice has come in, after a very thorough and extensive and, I would say, non-political investigation. These are professionals who have been there. These are lawyers. These are investigative authorities, who came in over a three-year period, after over 400 interviews, reached some serious conclusion about what’s taken place here in Maricopa County.

AMY GOODMAN: Randy, could you talk about the more than 400 sex crimes cases that Arpaio refused to investigate?

RANDY PARRAZ: Yeah, I just want to point out, when this was first brought out back in 2008 by a series called “Reasonable Doubt” by the East Valley Tribune reporters, Sheriff Arpaio stated that this was a bunch of trash. He referred to it as trash, this news coverage. That series is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning series. It was a series, when these things were investigated—people reported it, cases were opened, but there was no follow-up. These were victims as young as two years old, to young women and girls, were violated, were raped or molested, and those cases were not followed up. In some instances, they even had the name of the perpetrator. They just—cases were just not—were actually said to be cleared or were closed. And so, this was done.

And then this is the type of—just of lack of accountability, lack of concern Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies have to those instances. One of the reasons we believe is that most of those victims were either undocumented or were for children of undocumented parents, so it was not a priority on there, in terms of the sheriff’s office. So, again, this is about misplaced priorities. During this whole process the last three years, where the whole issue of immigration became politicized, the special victims unit was actually reduced so that he could have a—he could enlarge and expand his smuggling unit, his human smuggling unit. So, again, we believe right now that those values are not consistent with most Arizonans citizens believe, with most citizens here in Maricopa believe. And we believe this is the beginning of the end of Sheriff Arpaio, and he will not last ’til the next election. He will be forced to resign.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Randy, I wanted to ask you about that. Why, given this long history and the notoriety of this sheriff, why has he continued to remain in office?

RANDY PARRAZ: Well, he’s had—we call it a triangle of corruption. Prior to us getting involved in 2008, he had the board of supervisors—he had four of the five votes in his pocket. They were all—they would blanket check, give him whatever he wanted. His budget ballooned over $300 million, the largest budget in Maricopa County. In addition to that, the county attorney at the time, Andrew Thomas, was also complicit and worked in cooperation with Sheriff Arpaio, and he’s soon to be disbarred this year based on his practices. So there’s no checks and balances on the system, in terms of those who prosecute the crimes and those who enforce the law and those who hold him accountable when it comes to budgetary authority, which is the board of supervisors.

Even now, we’re having difficulty at the board of supervisors to get this issue, which is the Department of Justice report, and the uninvestigated sex crimes on the formal agenda. They’re even trying to stop us from doing that, because they don’t want to have this type of public airing of these types of opinions and views, because they were part of the problem. They sat there and stayed quiet while this was all going on. They sat there and stayed quiet when the most egregious cases of racial profiling taking place in recent memory and throughout the country was taking place on Latinos, because they were—because of either their language or how they looked, and that took place under their watch, and they continued to fund those practices.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Randy, also there were—several of his top deputies were implicated in wrongdoing and forced to resign recently. Could you talk about that, as well?

RANDY PARRAZ: Absolutely. Chief Deputy David Hendershott, this was his choice. This was his person to enforce and carry out all of Sheriff Arpaio’s policies. He was the one that helped set up the culture of intimidation, the culture of corruption, the abuse of power. For Sheriff Arpaio to be able to just fire him and stay in place, there’s no way these types of recommendations can go anywhere. This man needs to be removed. There is a wall of distrust. He has helped create that culture. He’s been there 20 years. So, for us to have serious traction and serious movement to really see serious change take place, he needs to leave. He needs to move on, for the sake and betterment of the Maricopa County. You have a situation now where the top elected law enforcement officer has violated the law, in terms—and has done so knowingly and intentionally. He needs to move on.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Steve Lemons to talk about, well, a couple things. One is the past behavior of how Arpaio held prisoners, the pink underwear, serving them green meat, instead of putting immigrants in buses that he detained, marching them in striped uniforms down the streets of Phoenix. Can you talk about this, the tent cities?

STEPHEN LEMONS: Well, yeah. I mean, Arpaio is not known for his love of civil liberties. And the culture of cruelty that he’s maintained over—you know, now going on two decades has been part and parcel why he’s been re-elected so many times. Unfortunately, that kind of sadism that you’re describing has been popular. He’s bragged about feeding his inmates for pennies on the dollar. You know, there have been notorious deaths in the jail, such as Scott Norberg, who was killed there. And the settlement payouts for that particular case was over $8 million. Overall, I think that payouts—you know, payouts, civil payouts, are up to $50 million on wrongful death cases. Lawyers make a bank off of Joe Arpaio’s mistreatment of his prisoners. But, you know, that is—

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the connections to the federal government. I mean, Janet Napolitano not making a major deal of Arpaio, wanting his support when she ran for governor of Arizona, now, significantly, she’s head of Homeland Security, has been working with Arpaio back in her home state of Arizona.

STEPHEN LEMONS: It’s a very good point. They were always allies, to some degree, even though they’re in different parties. Napolitano is a conservative Democrat and, you know, partnered with Arpaio to some to degree. Arpaio endorsed her run for governor the first time around. And they’ve been, you know, tacit allies. The Republican Party even accused Arpaio of getting Napolitano elected to governor, because he did a campaign commercial on her behalf, first time around. She helped him get the 287(g) agreement. She was instrumental in that. As far as the—you know, in finally removing the 287(g) from the jails, I believe that ICE was—I don’t know that they were necessarily in the loop as far as what the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was going to do. They—

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 20 seconds. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, no, I just would like to ask Randy Parraz about this latest death of the former soldier who was—who died in jail after being tasered.

AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 10 seconds.

RANDY PARRAZ: Yeah, I think it’s shameful. I think it shows, again, people are literally dying because of the culture of intimidation, harassment and discrimination taking place in those jails. We need a change it now. I think what’s even more shameful is this culture of silence by Republican leaders, from the governor on down, who refuse to take a stand, and basically saying Latinos do not matter in the state of Arizona.

AMY GOODMAN: Randy Parraz, we want to thank you for being with us, president of Citizens for a Better Arizona. Steve Lemons with the Phoenix New Times, thanks so much.

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