Wednesday, April 16, 2008


They're coming for the last. Well, maybe.

I'm talking about the infamous Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey this month in a letter to task the Justice Department's civil rights division with finding out whether Maricopa County deputies have engaged in unlawful conduct in what he termed discriminatory harassment and improper stops, searches and arrests by deputies.

"Over the past few weeks, Sheriff Arpaio's actions have infringed on the civil rights of our residents," Gordon wrote. "They have put our residents' well-being, and the well-being of law enforcement officers, at risk."

Gordon told one local radio station, ``He's (Arpaio) targeting individuals based on ethnicity and color."

Sheriff's deputies and trained volunteers have taken to the streets in recent weeks stopping motorists for routine traffic violations and in some cases asked them about their immigration status, Gordon noted in his letter.

The mayor also cited Arpaio's crime "saturation patrols" in certain neighborhoods launched at the request of a few business owners who complained of rising crime.

Gordon noted the most recent sweep in Guadalupe. He said the town usually ranks near or at the bottom of violent crime (see statement from Guadalupe below).

"His expansion of these roundups, with no end in sight, has compelled me to write this letter today," Gordon said.

Recently, several other groups have lambasted the Sheriff Department's sweeps. They include the Arizona chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, the Arizona Ecumenical Council and American Jewish Committee. They denounced the sweeps which they said “evoked a ‘police state’ atmosphere.”

Last Friday, a group of eight church leaders from a variety of faiths released a letter urging Arpaio to reconsider the morality of his "crime-suppression operations."

Also not pleased with the Sheriff is Mesa Police Chief George Gascón who cited a “growing concern that people are being stopped because of the way they look,” and said he is fearful that this type of police behavior could continue into the future.

“I’m extremely concerned if we create generations of police officers who don’t understand the 14th Amendment.”

Gascón said he has seen incidents, including one in his city, where people were held for hours by the sheriff's department because they were believed to be in the country illegally, when in fact, they were not. He also cited studies which made clear that so-called illegal immigrants are less likely than others to commit crimes.

Neighborhood leaders in north Phoenix's Palomino neighborhood are also upset with the Sheriff. They fear much of that work they've done to turn around their neighborhood could come undone as a result of Sheriff Arpaio's recent immigration sweep of their neighborhood.

They say the sweep resulted in thousands of dollars in lost business, hundreds of schoolchildren staying home and an overall disruption of the neighborhood.

"His efforts have taken away from all of the positives that we have created," said Vice Mayor Peggy Neely, who represents the Palomino area. "I'm afraid that if he keeps this up, someone is going to get hurt."

By the way it isn't just these "sweeps" that make this Sherrif a bad guy. He has a long history of outrageous behavior and conduct.

A recent panel discussion organized by the National Lawyers Guild at Arizona State (ASU) law school's Armstrong Hall heard from several attorney who represented clients who have sued the Sheriff. One of the lawyers, Michael Manning, a commercial attorney happened into litigation against Arpaio after a friend's son died in one of the county jails.

Before the suit, he knew little about the sheriff reports the Web Devil, the ASU student newspaper.

"I thought he was a pretty silly caricature of the Wild, Wild West," he said. "He gave a good sound bite."

A judge ruled in favor of Manning's client, affirming the man had been killed after jail guards stunned him 13 times with a Taser and kicked him in his larynx.

The man's family won $8.25 million, Manning said, the highest wrongful-death settlement in Arizona's history.

Manning said that a month after Arpaio took office, the lawman told employees in a newsletter that the jails are meant to be places of punishment.

"Our jails aren't for punishment," Manning said speaking of the county jail. "Our jails are for detention."

About 75 percent of the inmates in county jail haven't been convicted of a crime, but simply can't make bail, Manning said.

"A culture of cruelty has been established in this county in respect to our jails," another of the attorney JoeRobbins added.

Robbins noted a case in which a man wearing a pair of pink boxers, an "I love Arizona" shirt, military boots and a hat was arrested by a county officer for impersonating a Department of Public Safety officer.

"When one person can be arrested for wearing that on Halloween, you can arrest anyone," he said.

The Arizona Republic wrote yesterday demanding action to curb Arpaio:

"If the Justice Department accepts Gordon's request to investigate Arpaio's illegal-immigration interdiction unit, as it should, the feds already are late for the train."

At least one federal lawsuit has been filed against Arpaio's sweeps. Last fall in Cave Creek, Maricopa County deputies stopped a vehicle driven by a White man and, in the process, detained a Mexican citizen who happened to be in the car."

Even though Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres had documentation, including a stamped visa, proving he was in the country legally, the Mexican tourist was forced to endure nine hours of custody before being released in downtown Phoenix."

This is the sort of appalling treatment of citizens and visitors alike that is guaranteed to multiply unless the feds take action now. Even one of Mayor Gordon's own staff - a Hispanic, needless to say - has been scrutinized by sheriff's deputies in one of the "sweeps."'

The following is from Latina Lista.

AZ Mayor Sees No Justice in One Sheriff's Hunt for Undocumented Immigrants

The state of Arizona has enacted some of the most punitive legislation targeting undocumented immigrants. One man, Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County, has made it his mission to root out the undocumented in the Phoenix area.

The Sheriff conducts "crime suppression sweeps" which means that he gathers a "posse" of law enforcement officials and they choose a likely spot where they might apprehend an undocumented immigrant.

One town that Sheriff Arpaio has taken his brand of justice is the Town of Guadalupe. Yet, while most political officials where Sheriff Arpaio has conducted these operations have refrained from challenging the Sheriff, one has not.

Her name is Rebecca Jimenez and she is the Mayor of the Town of Guadalupe.

Jimenez made headlines when she had a showdown with the Sheriff when he came to Guadalupe to conduct one of his infamous sweeps.

In the following post, Jimenez outlines the reasons why she nor the Town of Guadalupe want or need the Sheriff's help.

My name is Rebecca Jimenez and I am the current Mayor of Guadalupe, AZ. Guadalupe is a Yaqui and Latino community of about 6,000 residents between Phoenix and Tempe at the base of South Mountain. The town proudly maintains a strong cultural and ethnic identity. It is named after the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Guadalupe was founded by Yaqui Indians around the turn of the century. The Town of Guadalupe is approximately one square mile in area. Although Guadalupe did not incorporate until 1975, our history dates back to 1907.

Guadalupe is a dual-culture community, those cultures being of Yaqui and/or Mexican descent. The Yaqui Indians have endured many turbulent times beginning with wars fought among the Spanish and Mexicans. When Porfirio Diaz’ regime persecuted them, the Yaquis fled North into the United States for safety.

Many of the Yaquis came up to the Salt River Valley to work on the construction of canals in the area. A community sprung up here – where we became Guadalupe. Over the years many Latino families have settled in Guadalupe and added their cultural heritage to the community as well.

Guadalupe does not have its own police department. Over the last two decades, the town has had a $1.2 million contract with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).

It has been a tumultuous relationship from the start.

The Town of Guadalupe has many issues that it struggles with daily and the MCSO is one of them. Because the town is composed mostly of residents who are Yaqui Indian or of Mexican descent, the Sheriff deputies view us through a colored lens and treat us accordingly.

When our townspeople call Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies for help, even for Priority One calls, it has taken up to 45 minutes for them to arrive, even as recently as two weeks ago.

Once the deputies do arrive, they treat the victims as if they are the criminals. This has been a challenge to our town and council because it is such a close-knit community that word quickly spreads about the insensitive and even abusive behavior of the deputies when they interact with our people.

Even before I became Mayor in December 2007, I had several encounters with deputies that illustrate the ignorance and prejudice of the Sheriff’s deputies.

I would often call their superior, Lieutenant Shephard, and ask why their deputies always came into town with “their guns drawn,” and treating our people as sub-human.

Once, he answered that one of his deputies’ cars had been vandalized, so they felt threatened in the community. Another time, one of the deputies called me a “fat pig,” when I called to report this to Lt. Shephard, he said, “You must have deserved it.” I wonder if he remembers me now.

Although the council has tried repeatedly to get out of this contract with Sheriff Arpaio, we have been unable to garner interest from other police departments in the Metro Phoenix area. No one was interested in serving Guadalupe in this capacity.

Until now.

Last week, April 3rd, 2008, changed all that and Guadalupe is on the verge of something fabulous.

Because of the increased media attention, the City of Phoenix has communicated to us that they are now willing to consider entering into a law enforcement contract between their police department and the Town of Guadalupe.

So, out of something negative came a positive.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is using these sweeps as a way to campaign and garner support from like-minded voters. He is using taxpayer money for these purposes and is able to do so by pandering to a chosen few and disguising his “Gestapo”-like tactics as valid law-enforcement against the “illegal” immigration problem.

From my own perspective, I see Sheriff Arpaio as a danger to the future growth and prosperity of the Phoenix Metro area, especially in Guadalupe.

His tactics not only drive a wedge between mainstream America and Latinos, they also cause a rift between Americans of Latino descent and the undocumented, as some may feel they have to create a separation between “us” and “them.”

It’s also dangerous because he does not care about the overt discrimination present in his tactics. One of the undercover patrol cars had a Sinaloa, Mexico license plate, which just reinforces who he is targeting and who he views as the enemy.

The problem with this is that all Latinos are viewed through the same distorted lens and we have to constantly justify our existence in this country.
Maybe Sheriff Arpaio needs to be reminded that he is a Sheriff in the year 2008 not 1888.

Everyone can do something to combat him, and people like him.

Other than voting him out of office, one way is to stand up to him. Our town, and neighboring community members, came out in force to protest his particular brand of covert racism.

For the first time, Sheriff Joe had to retreat and move his command post out of the community he was targeting. I hope that this event can serve to motivate other leaders and “ordinary” citizens to do the right thing and stand up to this type of modern-day, racialized scare tactics.

Hon. Rebecca Jimenez
Mayor, Town of Guadalupe

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