Feds Threaten to Sue Sheriff Arpaio

| Wed Aug. 18, 2010 4:33 PM EDT

The Justice Department is threatening to sue the infamous Joe Arpaio—the Arizona sheriff who's vowed to persecute any illegal immigrants who've crossed his path—for failing to cooperate with federal investigators. As the Washington Post explains, the feds want to determine whether Arpaio is responsible for "discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures," and discriminating against Hispanic inmates in jail.

A complaint to the Justice Department said that even bilingual jail guards are required to speak to inmates only in English and that the rule could endanger prisoners' medical care. The jail was also accused of forcing Hispanic visitors to fill out a "citizenship check" form, the letters said.

Lawyers in the division have repeatedly interviewed Phoenix area human rights leaders about Arpaio's immigration sweeps, and local "cop watch" groups have turned over hours of video footage of the sweeps to investigators.

Anyone who's followed Arpaio in recent years knows that the federal investigation, which launched in 2009, is just the tip of the iceberg: He's been the target of hundreds of lawsuits, and a federal grand jury is currently deciding whether "America's toughest sheriff" used his position to intimidate political opponents and misappropriate government money.

In a recent MoJo story, Aura Bogado explained how Arpaio began his anti-immigration crusade well before Arizona lawmakers were thinking of passing this year's controversial law. Arpaio has frequently boasted about his freedom to do as he pleases without worrying about what federal authorities might say. When the Department of Homeland Security rescinded Arpaio's authority to arrest suspected immigrations under part of existing federal law, he warned that he'd "still enforce the federal laws without the oversight, the policy, the restrictions that they put on us." But the Justice Department's latest challenge is a sign that authorities may finally launch a real clampdown on Arpaio's renegade border experiment.

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