Call for investigation into alleged anti-Hispanic sweeps
• Dan Glaister in
• guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 February 2009 18.28 GMT
The man who likes to call himself "
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa county in Arizona, which includes Phoenix, has achieved notoriety in recent years thanks to his high-profile law enforcement tactics. He has forced prisoners to march through the city dressed in just pink underwear, housed inmates in tents in the searing heat of the Arizona summer, and now appears on the Fox reality show Smile … You're Under Arrest. Last week he staged the 200 Mexican March, forcing prisoners to march in shackles from a local jail to his "tent city".
But his tactic of swamping areas of Maricopa county with hundreds of sheriff's deputies to carry out "crime suppression sweeps" has led to charges that he has abused his authority.
Last Wednesday, a federal judge cleared the way for five plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties
The bad news for Sheriff Joe, as he is known, was compounded on Friday when the chairmen of four US House of Representatives committees called on Eric Holder, the new US attorney general, and Janet Napolitano, who left her position as governor of Arizona to become homeland security secretary, to investigate allegations of misconduct against Arpaio.
"Racial profiling and segregation are simply not acceptable," the House judiciary committee chairman, John Conyers, said in a letter to Holder and Napolitano. "Media stunts and braggadocio are no substitute for fair and effective law enforcement."
The chair of the House immigration sub-committee, Zoe Lofgren, said: "The basic premise of our justice system is that people are innocent until proven otherwise. I'm concerned that in Maricopa county that basic premise appears to have been turned upside down and that Latino members of [the] community are considered 'undocumented' until proven otherwise."
The call for an investigation stems from a crime sweep conducted by Arpaio in late 2007. On 6 September that year, Manuel Ortega Melendres, a Mexican national with a valid
Two months later, Arpaio's officers stopped several vehicles making U-turns on a closed road. All were allowed to pass with the exception of the vehicle driven by Jessica Rodriguez and her husband, David, both
What the officer did not realise was that Rodriguez was a member of the staff of the mayor of
This week Arpaio denied that his deputies had used racial profiling. "We're doing the right thing," he told the
But Peter Kozinets, a lawyer representing the five plaintiffs in the case, argued that Arpaio's policy of stopping people for "driving while brown" needed to be challenged.
"At stake in this case is a matter of acute public importance. Law enforcement practices that target a group based solely on the colour of their skin have no place in
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