Justice Department Sues Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports:

The U.S. Justice Department sued Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio today for allegedly refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation into accusations the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office discriminates against Hispanics.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix is the latest attempt by the Department to obtain thousands of documents, including arrest records from January 2008, and unfettered access to county jails and interviews with inmates and employees.

The department first made the request more than one year ago and had set a deadline of Aug. 17 for Arpaio to comply. However, attorneys for Arpaio have complained the request was unfairly broad and the allegations unclear.

Both sides met in Washington last week to try to resolve the impasse, and the Justice Department set a new deadline of September 10. But Arpaio has remained defiant .

“They have hundreds of thousands of reports, hundreds of thousands,” Arpaio said this morning at a news conference in Phoenix. “They’re so broad, we’re trying to narrow it down. We’re trying to work with them.”

Arpaio, the man who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” is known for carrying out bold immigration sweeps across Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Tucson, cracking down on minor traffic offenders and then arresting suspected illegal immigrants.

While the lawsuit does not offer specific allegations for the government’s probe, state agencies that receive federal funds – including the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office – are required to cooperate with federal discrimination inquiries under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, referring to the protracted effort to secure Arpaio’s cooperation. “It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities.”

If the Sheriff’s Office is deemed to have engaged in discriminatory behavior it could risk losing federal grants, estimated at $16.5 million, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio fired back at the Justice Department today in an ongoing dispute over a civil rights investigation, rejecting an ultimatum to provide access to thousands of arrest records and employee interviews by September 10.

“If DOJ seeks to dictate every deadline and maintain the position that it, in its sole discretion, can determine what it wants and when, without any reasonable limitations on scope and without any input from MCSO [Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office], what DOJ truly seeks is compelled or coerced compliance,” wrote Arpaio attorney Robert Driscoll in a letter to Judy Preston, acting chief of the DOJ Special Litigation Section.

“MCSO is committed to providing DOJ with a reasonable amount of information and documents based upon which DOJ ca investigate allegations of national origin discrimination,” he wrote.

The Sheriff’s Office is also facing a separate, ongoing federal grand jury investigation in Arizona examining allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

-Devin Dwyer

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