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Judge to sanction Arizona sheriff over records

By The Associated Press
02.15.10

PHOENIX — A federal judge has found grounds for sanctioning an Arizona sheriff's office for its acknowledged destruction of records in a lawsuit that accuses deputies of racially profiling countless Hispanics in immigration patrols.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow held off on imposing the sanctions against the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the Feb. 12 ruling, but indicted he would do so at a later date once related issues were ironed out.

Since early 2008, Arpaio has run 13 immigration and crime sweeps consisting of deputies and posse volunteers who flood an area of a city - in some cases heavily Latino areas - to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders.
 
The handful of Latinos who filed the lawsuit against Arpaio's office alleged that officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics who were in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status.

Arpaio is known for tough jail policies. He has housed inmates in canvas tents and pushed the bounds for how local law enforcement agencies can confront illegal immigration.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was investigating his office for alleged discrimination and for unconstitutional searches and seizures, but wouldn't provide details. The sheriff said the inquiry was focused on his immigration efforts.

Arpaio has repeatedly denied racial-profiling allegations, saying people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes. It was only afterward that deputies found many of them were illegal immigrants, he has said.

Some sheriff's officials have acknowledged deleting their e-mails about the patrols and throwing away and shredding officers' records of traffic stops made during the sweeps.

Snow said the sheriff's office was negligent for not holding onto the documents and that the failure to preserve them was enough to justify sanctions. The judge asked plaintiff's attorneys to suggest unspecified "adverse inferences" that could be drawn from the destruction of officers' records of traffic stops made during the sweeps.

Peter Kozinets, one of those attorneys, said Feb. 13 that the document destruction deprived his clients of records that would have shown deputies were selective in whom they approached during the sweeps.

The sheriff's office said the destruction was an honest error that sprang from a top official's not telling others in his office to preserve the documents. The office also said the traffic-stop records were thrown away after supervisors tabulated statistics from them and that thousands of other documents had been handed over.

"We thought the ruling was extremely fair and we are pleased to cooperate," said Dave Hendershott, chief deputy of the sheriff's office. "It clearly shows that the judge understood that it was an unintentional oversight. We are very pleased with the ruling."

Snow also said plaintiff's attorneys could depose Arpaio again to question him about his own 800-page immigration file, which was covered by a documents request but wasn't handed over before his first deposition in mid-December.


Related

Court finds sheriff too slow in handing over public records

Arizona appellate judges send case back to lower court to determine if New Times is entitled to tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees. 02.06.08

Ariz. sheriff's office goes 0-3 in recent public-records cases

Judge awards legal fees to Tucson Citizen after Joe Arpaio's office took from July to December to produce requested documents. 02.13.08

Advocate for immigrants texts warnings of Ariz. crime sweeps
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says critics of his police policies who provide such tipoffs are walking a line between free speech and breaking the law. 01.04.10

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