A group of Latinos is arguing in federal court that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies carried out ethnic profiling as part of policy of discrimination. The civil lawsuit involving Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, has put his anti-illegal immigration patrols on center stage. A lawyer for plaintiffs who argue they were victims of ethnic profiling said in opening statements that the evidence will show that Arpaio and his deputies discriminated against Hispanics. The plaintiffs aren’t seeking money damages but want instead a declaration that Arpaio’s office ethnically profiles and an order from the presiding judge that requires the department to make changes to prevent what they said is discriminatory policing.

Tim Casey, who is defending Arpaio, said that the patrols were properly planned out and executed and exceeded police standards. Arpaio has said people pulled over were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes and that officers only learned afterward that many were undocumented immigrants.

For years, Arpaio has vehemently denied allegations that his deputies in Arizona’s most populous county ethnically profile Latinos in his trademark patrols. However, the plaintiffs say deputies based some traffic stops on the physical characteristics of Hispanics who were in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could ask about their immigration status.

The lawsuit echoes some of the profiling accusations in the DOJ case. That suit said Arpaio’s office retaliated against its critics, punished Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish and failed to adequately investigate a large number of sex-crimes cases. No trial date in that case has been set. Arizona State University law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick said that if Arpaio loses the current case, the verdict would likely stand as the finding on whether Arpaio’s office profiles. The sheriff likely wouldn’t be able to re-litigate the profiling allegations in the DOJ case. Still, Arpaio could dispute the other allegations, Hessick said. If Arpaio wins, the DOJ wouldn’t be prevented from bringing its ethnic profiling allegations to trial. The judge overseeing that case might be inclined to rule against the federal agency on the ethnic profiling claim because there would be a fellow judge who concluded that the facts don’t support it.

Arpaio has staked his reputation on immigration enforcement and, in turn, won support and financial contributors from people across the country who helped him build a $4 million campaign war chest. The patrols have brought allegations that Arpaio himself ordered some of them not based on reports of crime but letters from Arizonans who complained about dark-skinned people loitering or speaking Spanish.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys say they plan to prove that Arpaio’s office had a policy that was intentionally discriminatory, in part, by focusing on their allegation that Arpaio launched some patrols based on ethnically charged citizen complaints. Some of the people who filed the lawsuit were stopped by deputies in regular patrols, while others were stopped in his special immigration sweeps. During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city, in some cases, heavily Latino areas, over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders.

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