PHOENIX — A judge has dismissed an Arizona sheriff’s office from a lawsuit
alleging the agency carried out a pattern of discrimination against Latinos in
its immigration patrols but rejected a request to dismiss Maricopa County
Sheriff Joe Arpaio from the case.
The ruling filed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver marks a net
loss for Arpaio and means the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against the
sheriff and Maricopa County can move forward in court.
The judge, in dismissing the sheriff’s office, said there was no law giving the
sheriff’s office the right to be sued as a separate legal entity. Still, Silver
rejected arguments to dismiss the sheriff and the county from the case.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in May accusing Arpaio’s office of
racially profiling Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, retaliating
against its critics and punishing Latino jail inmates with limited English
skills for speaking Spanish.
The lawsuit also accused Arpaio’s office of launching some immigration patrols
based on citizen letters that complained about people with dark skin
congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish but ultimately never reported a
The sheriff denies the allegations, saying people are stopped if deputies have
probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later
find many of them are illegal immigrants.
The Justice Department isn’t seeking monetary damages and instead wants a
declaration that Arpaio’s officers use racial profiling and an order requiring
policy changes. If Arpaio loses the case, he won’t face jail time or fines.
A similar lawsuit filed by a small number of Latinos who alleged racial
profiling in Arpaio’s immigration patrols was tried this summer by a federal
judge, who hasn’t yet issued a ruling. That lawsuit will serve as a precursor
for the Justice Department’s broader civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio.
The sheriff’s office and Arpaio’s lawyers didn’t immediately respond to
requests at midday Thursday for comment on the ruling.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which lined up a private law firm to
represent the county, issued a statement saying it’s reviewing the ruling and
still believes that key points in the county’s dismissal request still need to
The Justice Department released a statement, saying that considering “the
discriminatory treatment that Latinos in Maricopa County continue to face to
this day, the United States welcomes the court’s ruling and is prepared to
proceed with the judicial process so that it may be resolved in as swift a
manner as possible.”
Arpaio’s lawyers argued that claims the agency treats Latinos differently than
other people should be dismissed against the sheriff because the Justice
Department failed to provide enough statistical evidence to back up their
Silver rejected the request, saying a lawsuit doesn’t have to have alleged
statistical evidence at this early point in the case where a lawsuit’s targets
are seeking to have the case thrown out.
The sheriff also sought to be dismissed from part of the case by arguing that a
discrimination ban in federal law doesn’t cover language proficiency, meaning
that language isn’t a substitute for national origin.
Silver wrote that federal regulations hold that language-based discrimination
is a form of national-origin discrimination and that the U.S. Supreme Court has
ruled that the ban on national-origin discrimination covers discrimination
against people with limited English skills.
The county itself sought to be dismissed, arguing it has no authority over the
sheriff and therefore has power to stop the alleged discrimination by the
sheriff’s office and Arpaio.
The judge wrote that the county can be held responsible from constitutional
violations resulting from a sheriff’s policies.