A trial on a civil lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio began last week in federal court in Phoenix. It involves a class-action lawsuit that claims the sheriff, his department and his deputies exhibited a pattern of conduct that focused police activities on persons of Latino origin and “appearance.” In other words, Sheriff Arpaio is being accused of turning his department into a law enforcement agency that pursued not crime suspects, but those suspected of being Latinos and possibly undocumented.
Lawyers for civil rights organizations, who represent six plaintiffs and an entire class of persons (the class was already certified by a judge) claim they have data, testimony and proof that Arpaio’s goal and practices were to pursue Latinos and discover the undocumented ones. Along the way, legal visa holders and even U.S. citizens were subjected to seemingly arbitrary arrests by sheriff’s deputies, or at least that is what the plaintiffs are trying to prove.
Obviously, what is at stake here are not only a verdict against Arpaio and possible changes in the way police work is carried out in Maricopa County. The attorneys are trying to prove that when the limits between federal work and the work of local law enforcement are not respected, abuses happen and the constitution is violated.
This lawsuit, within the context of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona law that left standing the provision that requires local police to verify the immigration status of those detained under suspicion of a crime, could serve as additional evidence that this is not the way to proceed and one more argument against what still remains of SB 1070.