The Department of Justice today took the unusual step of suing a sitting U.S. sheriff. Joe Arpaio, the infamous sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., is charged with years of systematically discriminating against Latinos and using the power of his office to retaliate against critics.
This paragraph seems as good a place as any to note that Arpaio is alleged to have retaliated against media critics Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin -- executives with the Village Voice Media chain that owns this here paper you're reading. Both were arrested in the middle of the night in 2007 by Arpaio's deputies, which in part spurred an ongoing First Amendment lawsuit.
The Feds' suit, filed today in Phoenix, calls for a federal judge to curtail the alleged anti-Latino discriminatory practices revealed in the course of a three-year Justice Department investigation of Arpaio's department. The suit comes on the heels of Arpaio's steadfast refusal to allow Justice Department monitors within his department following the Feds' claim that Maricopa County sheriffs engaged in widespread racial profiling and discrimination.
The charges come as little surprise to San Francisco district attorney and former police chief George Gascón. As police chief in Mesa, Ariz., Gascón confronted the powerful and popular sheriff. When Arpaio targeted Gascón by sending deputies into Mesa to round up illegal immigrants, Gascón countered by having 132 of his officers monitor the sweep -- leaving the blustering sheriff to appear foolish in the resultant crush of media coverage.
Today Gascón issued a statement on the federal suit:
"When I was Police Chief of Mesa, Arizona, I witnessed blatant acts of
racism and racial profiling committed by the Maricopa County Sheriff's
Office. During my time there, I raised my concerns with the Justice
Department and Congress about the systematic discrimination against Latinos
and Sheriff Arpaio's basic disregard for constitutional rights. The
Department of Justice's decision to file a lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio affirms what many
of us knew were illegal tactics designed to demonize and intimidate the
Latino community. The indictment is a victory not only for the Latino
community in Arizona but for all of us in this country who continue to
fight for civil rights."