Arizona: US Department of justice launches civil rights investigation of sheriff’s office

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The Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said that the ADL welcomes the recently announced federal investigations into allegations of civil rights abuses on the part of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

Bill Straus, who co-signed an April 2008 letter from the ADL to then-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s office requesting an investigation into the MCSO, told Jewish News that the decision to send that letter came out of “a discussion of our office, the Civil Rights Division of ADL and the highest level executives.”

The letter was co-signed by Deborah Lauter, national director of the ADL’s Civil Rights Division.

Laura Sweeney, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation of the MCSO but would not comment further.

Straus said the ADL’s concerns about the allegations against Arpaio’s office hinge on policies “going back way before the border years in Arizona.”

“We oppose the use of local law enforcement to carry out enforcement of federal laws. So we, from the very beginning, opposed the 287(g) agreement” that allows MCSO to arrest people for alleged violations of federal immigration law. Straus said the ADL received so many complaints about racial profiling that finally “we reached a point where we said we really need someone (from the outside) to come in and referee this.”

“If (Arpaio’s) not profiling, we need to know it,” Straus said, “and if he is profiling, we need to know it and do something about it. Either way, we need a thorough investigation from someone that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.”

Earlier this month, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. House Judiciary Committee announced their own investigations into allegations of civil rights abuses by the MCSO.

A separate lawsuit against the sheriff’s office on the part of five private plaintiffs is ongoing, said the lead attorney, David Bodney, of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. The suit, which is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, maintains that application of the 287(g) program is unconstitutional and should come to a stop.

“The federal civil rights lawsuit that we brought seeks declaratory and injunctive relief only,” Bodney pointed out. “It is not a lawsuit for monetary damages.”

Bodney, a member of the local ADL board, said that the ADL’s decision to support the racial profiling investigations was taken independent of his role as plaintiff’s counsel in the case.

“I think (ADL) is one important voice in a chorus of calls for these federal investigations,” Bodney told Jewish News. “The conduct at issue is particularly reprehensible, and the more I learn about the harassment that has taken place, the more persuaded I am of the need to bring the sheriff’s conduct to a halt.”

Straus said that the ADL is “taking the same position as the sheriff. He’s on record as saying he welcomes the investigations. … We say the same thing the sheriff says.”

 Source: Jewishaz