Ariz. Sheriff Arpaio Grilled On Racial Profiling

Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a court appearance Tuesday and faced questioning. Arpaio is accused of racial profiling in a civil class-action lawsuit.

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Lawyers used Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's own words against him yesterday, trying to prove he uses racial profiling in his efforts to rid the Phoenix area of illegal immigrants. Arpaio, who calls himself America's toughest sheriff, faces a federal class action suit brought by Latino citizens and legal residents. NPR's Ted Robbins was in the courtroom.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Sheriff Joe Arpaio was on the stand for six hours in Judge Murray Snow's federal courtroom, his testimony the centerpiece of the civil trial against him. Arpaio insisted neither he nor his deputies practice racial profiling. To dispute that, plaintiff's attorney Stanley Young played some of Arpaio's many TV appearances. Here's one from two years ago on Fox. Arpaio told Glenn Beck the criteria deputies use to stop suspects.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

JOE ARPAIO: Their speech, what they look like. If they just look like they came from another country we can take care of that situation.

ROBBINS: To show Arpaio's racism, the lawyer played this appearance from CNN. Arpaio talked with Lou Dobbs about his critics.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

ARPAIO: Well, you know, they call you KKK. They did me. I think it's an honor, right? Means we're doing something.

LOU DOBBS: Just so the right people are doing it.

ARPAIO: Means we're doing it.

ROBBINS: After court, Arpaio's lawyer, Tim Casey, stood up for his client.

TIM CASEY: I think there was a lot of confusion, and I think that those things were taken out of context.

ROBBINS: Casey then pretty much repeated what the sheriff said on cross-examination about the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

CASEY: The MCSO has not, does not, and will not racially profile.

ROBBINS: But plaintiff's lawyer Stanley Young spent the day using not just TV appearances, but the sheriff's own writing, trying to establish a pattern of prejudice and discrimination. Young read from Arpaio's book, "Joe's Law," which says Mexicans don't share the same values as other immigrants. Arpaio said it was his co-author who wrote that.

Then Young read a number of emails and letters Arpaio got from supporters. One urged the sheriff to run a crime suppression sweep near a suburban Phoenix McDonald's because no one behind the counter spoke English. Arpaio said he didn't act on that request, he just passed it along to his chief deputy, who did. Plaintiff's attorney Stanley Young said that itself is evidence things need to change in the department.

STANLEY YOUNG: I can't think of a single organization, whether public or private, that would approve of the head of the organization taking undisputably(ph) racist messages and forwarding them to other people in the organization in order to provide information that they will use in their operation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

ROBBINS: Outside the courthouse, protestors chanted: arrest Arpaio. Four people were arrested by Phoenix police for blocking an intersection. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs are not asking for money. They're asking the court to order the Maricopa County Sheriff's office to stop its practices. Judge Snow could issue an injunction and appoint a court monitor. The Department of Justice is also suing Arpaio and his department for racial profiling, not only in the field but also in Maricopa County jails.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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