Feds Threaten To Sue Arizona Sheriff In Rights Case

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in front of the county jail i

Although a federal judge suspended several controversial provisions of Arizona's new immigration law, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, shown in front of the county jail last week, said he did not need the law in order to detain undocumented immigrants during a planned crime sweep in Phoenix. John Moore/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption John Moore/Getty Images
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in front of the county jail

Although a federal judge suspended several controversial provisions of Arizona's new immigration law, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, shown in front of the county jail last week, said he did not need the law in order to detain undocumented immigrants during a planned crime sweep in Phoenix.

John Moore/Getty Images

The county sheriff in Phoenix, known for his efforts against illegal immigrants, is refusing to cooperate in a civil rights investigation, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday. It threatened to sue if he refused to cooperate with the next phase of the probe.

The department has been investigating Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office for alleged discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures. Arpaio is increasingly becoming known as the Arizona sheriff who conducts random raids on places he thinks might be employing illegal immigrants.

His deputies recently raided a suburban Phoenix library at 2:30 a.m., presumably, Justice officials said, to arrest members of the janitorial staff who may have been in the country illegally.

The day after a court put on hold part of Arizona's immigration law that allowed police to ask for proof of citizenship, Arpaio announced an immigration raid that netted three dozen people, six of whom had no documentation.

In a letter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez gave the sheriff's office until Aug. 17 to turn over documents first requested last year in what the department calls an inquiry into claims of discrimination based on national origin.

Arpaio and his legal counsel said a year ago that the sheriff's office would not cooperate with the inquiry.

The office "has continued its unwarranted refusal to cooperate," Perez wrote.

In June, the office supplied a position statement regarding the operation of its jail facilities.

The statement says "nothing at all about the allegations of discriminatory police practices," and includes no agreement to provide access to sheriff's office facilities and personnel, Perez said in the letter to the sheriff's department's legal counsel. The letter also said a limited production of accompanying documents fails to respond to the first request for material made 17 months ago.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs on the basis of race or national origin.

Perez pointed out that the sheriff's office signed contractual assurances under Title VI agreeing to allow examination of relevant records by the Justice Department.

The Title VI implementing regulations require that every application for federal financial assistance be accompanied by an assurance that the program will be conducted in accordance with all requirements.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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