May 24th, 2013

Federal Court Rules Racial Profiling in Arizona Violated Latinos’ Constitutional Rights

On May 24, 2013, Judge G. Murray Snow of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), led by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by conducting raids and traffic stops that targeted Latinos based on race.

Statistical studies indicated that MCSO officers were between four and nine times more likely to stop a Latino driver than a similar non-Latino driver. In addition, though the MCSO’s authority to enforce federal immigration law was revoked in 2009, the office continued to conduct immigration-related raids and traffic stops for four years afterward, in violation of federal law and the Constitution. A law enforcement expert at the Department of Justice described the MCSO’s actions as the worst example of racial profiling that he had encountered.

Evidence in the case indicated that the observed racial disparities were motivated by anti-Latino bias at the highest levels of MCSO leadership. The office’s written policies encouraged the use of race as a factor in determining whether to conduct a traffic stop, and emails recovered from the accounts of high-level MCSO officials revealed they repeatedly expressed anti-Latino sentiment and shared racist images and jokes.

Further litigation in the case is pending. The MCSO appealed the district court’s ruling and negotiations regarding possible remedies, including an independent monitor of MCSO policies and practices, are ongoing.