MALDEF Hails Department of Justice Investigation Into Numerious Civil Rights Complaints Against Arizona Sheriff

DOJ action signals a return to the civil rights protection priorities of the Department as seen in the age and leadership of Robert F. Kennedy

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Eric Holder’s action to open an investigation into the civil rights violations by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in Arizona following requests by MALDEF and other civil rights organizations and leaders demonstrates a new seriousness at the Department of Justice. In a letter to Holder, MALDEF Western Regional Counsel Nancy Ramirez wrote, “Your action to commence an investigation should demonstrate to Sheriff Arpaio and the nation that the federal government is taking its rightful place at the forefront of protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans.”

Sheriff Arpaio’s tenure has triggered myriad civil rights lawsuits, including one filed by MALDEF in July 2008 for racially profiling Latino citizens and legal residents, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1962 and the Arizona Constitution. Recently, Sheriff Arpaio handcuffed and chained 220 undocumented immigrant detainees by the feet and forced them to march down a public street to a segregated facility he calls “Tent City.” Earlier this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed a verdict for a prisoner who was severely beaten in the outdoor jail. The court affirmed the finding that Sheriff Arpaio was deliberately indifferent to the risk of attack in the tent unit and affirmed an award of punitive damages against him.

MALDEF has pledged its support and assistance in providing information about civil rights violations in Maricopa County. “This investigation is of the utmost importance. Almost 50 years ago, Attorney General Robert Kennedy made clear to Southern sheriffs that the Constitution and its protections apply to all people. The Attorney General is following the Kennedy model by commencing this investigation,” concluded Ramirez.

Please see attached letters to Attorney General Eric Holder and letter from Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to Sheriff Joseph Arpaio.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund