Federal prosecutors say Arpaio engaged in "discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos who are frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin." The Sheriff's Office is also accused of discriminatory jail practices against Hispanic inmates and taking illegal retaliation against perceived critics.
The Justice Department last December issued a letter of findings, alleging the discriminatory actions and said efforts to reach a resolution have failed, primarily because the Sheriff's Office refused to agree to oversight by an independent monitor.
The lawsuit alleges the Sheriff's Office "promotes and is indifferent to the discriminatory conduct of its law enforcement officers, as is demonstrated by inadequate policies, ineffective training, virtually non-existent accountability measures, poor supervision, scant data collection mechanisms, distorted enforcement prioritization (and) an ineffective complaint and disciplinary system."
The Justice Department said the Sheriff's Office promotes "a culture of disregard for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization."
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff's office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways," Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said Thursday in a statement.
"No one in Maricopa County is above the law and the department will fight to ensure that the promise of the Constitution is realized by everyone in Maricopa County."
The lawsuit was anticipated, The Arizona Republic said, and Arpaio appeared to be preparing for it with the unveiling this week of a reform plan to improve the operation and community outreach of the Sheriff's Office. Arpaio's proposal contains many of the recommendations from a draft agreement federal officials provided the Sheriff's Office earlier this year, the newspaper said.
Sheriff's Office officials said they hope the plan will provide a framework for improvements as the department works through the federal legal dispute.
"We've been talking about this philosophy for months, and we finally decided -- the sheriff decided -- it's no longer time to sit on our hands waiting for the Department of Justice to take us to court. Let's do something about it," Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan was quoted as saying.