Judge rules MCSO out of immigration business for now - Tucson News Now


Judge rules MCSO out of immigration business for now

© Sheriff Joe Arpaio © Sheriff Joe Arpaio

A federal judge has ruled that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's immigration enforcement policy is unconstitutional.

The case focused on whether the sheriff's office street patrol and crime sweeps unconstitutionally targeted people of Latino descent.

Video of the crime sweeps made national news, and the sheriff bragged about how many illegal immigrants his officers took off the streets.

Last summer, a class action civil rights trial took place in Phoenix with the Justice Department going up against the sheriff's office. It was a bench trial, which means no jury was seated.

On Friday, the judge issued his ruling.

The injunction stated that the plaintiffs are "entitled to injunctive relief necessary to remedy the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations caused by MCSO's past and continuing operations."

The injunction goes on to state that MCSO is prohibited from the following:

  1. Detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of vehicles in Maricopa County based on a reasonable belief, without more, that such persons are in the country without authorization.
  2. Following or enforcing its LEAR (Law Enforcement Agency Response Unit) policy against any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County.
  3. Using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in determining to stop any vehicle in Maricopa County with a Latino occupant.
  4. Using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in making law enforcement decisions with respect to whether any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County may be in the country without authorization.
  5. Detaining Latino occupants of vehicles stopped for traffic violations for a period longer than reasonably necessary to resolve the traffic violation in the absence of reasonable suspicion that any of them have committed or are committing a violation of federal or state criminal law.
  6. Detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of a vehicle in Maricopa County for violations of the Arizona Human Smuggling Act without a reasonable basis for believing that, under all the circumstances, the necessary elements of the crime are present.
  7. Detaining, arresting or holding persons based on a reasonable suspicion that they are conspiring with their employer to violate the Arizona Employer Sanctions.

The judge said he would come up with additional steps that may be necessary to remedy the problems after talking to all the parties involved.

The American Civil Liberties Union represents the plaintiffs, a group of citizens and legal residents who claim they were detained, targeted and/or harassed because of the way they look or their ethnic background.

The ACLU argued that the sheriff's office set up a dragnet for illegal immigrants, failed to follow established guidelines for anti-discriminatory policing, and that citizens and legal residents got caught in the middle.

During the court hearing, the defense grilled an expert who said studies show 80 percent of traffic stops are because of race. Dr. Ralph Taylor, professor of criminal justice at Temple University, testified if an incident took place during the time a saturation patrol was in effect, there was a high likelihood that the name checked would be Hispanic.

Tim Casey, who represents the defense, maintained the plaintiffs have no evidence that race does not play a factor in any of their traffic stops. Race and ethnicity had nothing to do with any stops of any individuals, he said. Casey added there has never been a saturation patrol that has not been based on criminal activity.

Casey told CBS 5 News that the sheriff's office will abide by the judge's ruling, but will likely appeal. He viewed the decision as the judge taking aim at the training MCSO received from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Facts are facts, statistics are statistics and they can be interpreted," said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. "But I thought they were very telling."

"What this ruling means is a vindication, a vindication for all of us who said these were human rights, civil rights violations taking place," said community activist Lydia Guzman.

"It certainly would put, hopefully, a check on [SB] 1070 and other copycat laws around the county, but the sheriff didn't need 1070. He announced regularly, 'I don't need 1070, I've been doing this for years,'" said Dan Pochoda, the legal director of the ACLU, which provided counsel for the plaintiffs.

This case will be one step toward answering the Supreme Court's last remaining question about SB 1070 - whether local police can enforce immigration law without violating the civil rights of citizens.

The case is called Melendres v. Arpaio. You can find a link to the ACLU's web page on the case here.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5  (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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