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Isabel Alegria, ACLU National, (415) 343-0785, (646) 438-4146 or
Dan Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 532-0486 or
Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 301-3705 or
Amelia Hansen, Covington & Burling, (415) 955-6831 or
Larry Gonzalez, The Raben Group, (310) 956-2425 or

May 24, 2013


PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, a federal district court said today. The ruling comes following a three-week trial in July and August of last year, over a pattern of unlawful practices by Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) during immigration sweeps and traffic stops.

“Arpaio’s proven willingness to seek political gain at the expense of public safety and constitutional guarantees has come at a great cost to Latinos in Maricopa County, who’ve been terrorized by MCSO personnel and forced to endure years of racial harassment and abuse,” said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona.  “The court found that racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, from top to bottom, was pervasive and widespread. Given the absence of monitoring or even recognition of serious problems by agency personnel, court-required, substantive changes will be necessary to eradicate these unconstitutional practices and restore public trust.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP represented a class of Latino residents and a Latino community organization, Somos America, in the lawsuit.

“I applaud the many individuals who came forward to tell their stories with courage and dignity,” said Lydia Guzman of Somos America. “This decision brings us one step closer to justice. I look forward to working together to ensure that the MCSO is not allowed to profile our community any longer.”

“This is an important victory that will resound far beyond Maricopa County,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Singling people out for traffic stops and detentions simply because they’re Latino is illegal and just plain un-American. Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people’s rights in immigration enforcement.”

Last September, a federal appeals court affirmed that Arpaio’s office cannot detain people solely on the suspicion that they are undocumented when it refused to reverse a lower-court’s ruling. Today, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a decision in Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio that found the policies and practices of Arpaio and his office are discriminatory, violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Arizona Constitution.

 “The evidence fully supports the finding of an equal protection clause violation,” said Stan Young, a partner with Covington & Burling. “We proved a discriminatory intent, through the sheriff’s own internal correspondence and public statements, as well as admissions that the MCSO uses Hispanic ethnicity as a reason to pursue immigration inquiries. We also proved a harmful effect, in the form of higher stop rates and longer stop times for Hispanics. Even apart from racial discrimination, we also proved that the MCSO improperly detains motorists and passengers without having an adequate basis. All of these violations will now need to stop.” 

MCSO's rampant racial profiling had created a culture of fear in Maricopa County. Latinos and others who look or sound “foreign” have worried that a trip to the grocery store or to work will end with interrogation by armed officers or incarceration at the county jail.

“The voices of Sheriff Arpaio's racial profiling targets have been heard,” said Nancy Ramirez, Western Regional Counsel, MALDEF. “Today's decision vindicates Maricopa County community members who have long suffered from the Sheriff's discriminatory and illegal practices.  We look forward to seeing much needed reforms implemented at the MCSO.” 

Today’s decision is a major step in putting an end to the culture of fear that was created under Sheriff Arpaio’s leadership of MCSO. With this victory, plaintiffs’ attorneys will make a detailed submission to the district court, outlining steps that should be taken to put an end to the MCSO’s illegal practices.

For a copy of the decision: Arizona District Court Opinion Ortega-Melendres

For more information on the case: click here