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
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
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
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
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