On December 12, 2007, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the District of Arizona against the County of Maricopa and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, as well as the Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The plaintiffs sought to represent a class of Latino persons who have been or will be stopped, detained, interrogated, or searched by the Sheriff or his agents in moving or parked vehicles in Maricopa County. They alleged claims under the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) and Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection) to the U.S. Constitution; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Arizona state constitution. The plaintiffs were represented by private pro bono attorneys, the American Civil Liberties Union (both local and national), and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. The United States Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division and local U.S. Attorneys) appeared in the case as amicus, explaining that had a sharp interest in the matter because of its separate civil rights lawsuit against the County, United States v. Maricopa County, PN-AZ-0001
in this Clearinghouse. Plaintiffs asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief against the defendants, claiming that defendants have engaged in a widespread pattern and practice of racial profiling and racially or ethnically discriminatory treatment in "enforcing" federal immigration laws against Latino persons without regard for actual citizenship or immigration status.
The plaintiffs alleged that defendants have launched a series of "crime suppression sweeps" to target Latino persons for investigation of immigration status, using pretextual and unfounded stops, racially motivated questioning, searches, and/or baseless arrests. These sweeps include a volunteer "posse" that help to carry out defendants' policies and practices. Defendants had claimed authority under a limited agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, plaintiffs allege that the ICE agreement prohibits these practices, because the agreement only allows for questioning of immigration status once someone is suspected of violating a state law or federal law more severe than a traffic offense. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants' pattern and practice of racial profiling goes beyond these "sweeps" to include widespread, everyday targeting and mistreatment of drivers and passengers in Maricopa County who appear to be Latino. Plaintiffs allege Latino drivers and passengers are stopped at higher rates, treated more intrusively, and detained longer than similarly situated Caucasian drivers and passengers (even within the same vehicle). Plaintiffs also allege that defendants have set up a "hotline" for "tips" on illegal immigrants, which they allege invites individuals to equate race with immigration status. Plaintiffs allege a failure to train personnel and volunteers adequately and to promulgate appropriate policies to prevent infringement of plaintiffs' rights. Allegedly, the Sheriff made many public statements about his intent to "go after illegals" and said publicly that physical appearance was basis to question someone about their immigration status.
On July 15, 2009, the Court (Murgia, J.) granted the defendants' motion for recusal. The defendants claimed that only the day after Judge Murgia ruled against them did they become aware that Judge Murgia's (identical twin) sister was the President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); they argued that accordingly, Judge Murgia must recuse herself. The Court found that the motion was untimely, that the defendants had not shown any evidence of the Court's bias, and that her sister's position was not enough to compel recusal. However, the Court found that NCLR's "Stop the Hate" online campaign, which contains articles that are highly disparaging of these defendants and which takes a strong stand on disputed legal and factual matters in this case (and which contain pictures of the Court's identical twin sister) might lead the public to question Judge Murgia's impartiality, and that she should recuse herself in this close call. Melendres v. Arpaio, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65069, 2009 WL 2132693 (D. Ariz. July 15, 2009). The case was reassigned to Judge G. Murray Snow.
On August 13, 2009, Judge Snow denied the County's motion to stay proceedings pending DOJ investigations. Melendres v. Maricopa County, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75364, 2009 WL 2515618 (D. Ariz. Aug. 13, 2009). On October 13, 2009, the Court (Judge Snow) approved a joint motion and stipulation of plaintiffs and defendant Maricopa County to dismiss Maricopa County without prejudice.
On December 23, 2011, the Court (Judge Snow) issued an order denying summary judgment and sending the case to trial in large part. Based on the few statistic sheets that were available, the Court held that the finder of fact may draw the following inferences from the statistic sheets that MCSO shredded: that they would have suggested officers involved in special operations did not follow a "zero tolerance" policy requiring them to stop all traffic offenders; that they would have included a significantly higher number of arrests in the categories "Illegal Alien turned over to ICE/LEAR" and/or "Suspected Illegal Alien arrested on state charges" than records documenting ordinary patrol activity. Based on the recovered emails, the Court found that the finder of fact could draw the following inferences from emails that MCSO irretrievably purged: that MCSO maintained a file of citizen complaints making requests for special operations; that MCSO conducted operations in areas named in the complaints; and that at least some of the citizen communications complained about "Mexicans," "day laborers," or "illegal immigrants" but did not provide a description of any criminal activity. Melendres v. Arpaio, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148187 (D. Ariz. Dec. 23, 2011).
On the same day, December 23, 2011, the Court certified the class of "all Latino persons who, since January, 2007, have been or will be in the future, stopped, detained, questioned or searched by MCSO agents while driving or sitting in a vehicle on a public roadway or parking area in Maricopa County, Arizona." The Court also enjoined MCSO and its officers from detaining any person only because they believe or know that the person is unlawfully present in the United States. Ortega-Melendres v. Arpaio, 836 F. Supp. 2d 959 (D. Ariz. 2011). The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office filed an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit. Later, on September 25, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's order. De Jesus Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. Ariz. 2012).
In the meantime, the matter proceeded to a bench trial, held in July and August 2012. On May 24, 2013, Judge Murray Snow issued a 142-page decision finding for the plaintiffs. The Court found the plaintiffs entitled to injunctive relief to remedy the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations caused by the Sheriff's Office past and continuing operations, and entered a permanent injunction forbidding the MCSO from:
1. Detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of vehicles in Maricopa County based on a reasonable belief, without more, that such persons are in the country without authorization.
2. Following or enforcing its LEAR policy against any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County.
3. Using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in determining to stop any vehicle in Maricopa County with a Latino occupant.
4. Using race or Latino ancestry as a factor in making law enforcement decisions with respect to whether any Latino occupant of a vehicle in Maricopa County may be in the country without authorization.
5. Detaining Latino occupants of vehicles stopped for traffic violations for a period longer than reasonably necessary to resolve the traffic violation in the absence of reasonable suspicion that any of them have committed or are committing a violation of federal or state criminal law.
6. Detaining, holding or arresting Latino occupants of a vehicle in Maricopa County for violations of the Arizona Human Smuggling Act without a reasonable basis for believing that, under all the circumstances, the necessary elements of the crime are present.
7. Detaining, arresting or holding persons based on a reasonable suspicion that they are conspiring with their employer to violate the Arizona Employer Sanctions Act.
The defendant appealed this decision, along with the denial of their initial motion to dismiss. (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Case Number 13-16285).
The parties negotiated a consent decree to ensure the Maricopa Sheriff's Office complied with the Court's findings of facts for the plaintiffs. On October 2, 2013, after hearing the terms on which the parties could and could not agree, the Court (Judge Snow) issued an order making the previous injunctions permanent and establishing the methods for compliance. The order required the Sheriff's Office to create a unit to aid in compliance and a system for identifying problematic behavior and provided for an independent monitor to ensure compliance. It further demanded that all of the Sheriff's policies and procedures conform to the US and AZ constitutions and laws, that the monitor review any of the Sheriff's immigration-related policies and practices, that all officers receive training on nondiscriminatory policing, that the Sheriffs create an accountable system for documenting traffic stops including dash-cam recording, that all complaints are brought forward and addressed, and that the Sheriffs get involved in the community to rebuild public trust.
The Sheriffs appealed this order as well (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Case Number 13-17238), and it was consolidated with their previous appeal.
On April 4, and October 10, 2014, the Court (Judge Snow) issued orders amending the permanent injunction, giving the Monitor, rather than the Sheriff's Office, the community outreach responsibility to serve as a liaison between the public and the Sheriff's Office. The second of the orders amended the injunction to allow for body-mounted cameras as opposed to dash mounted cameras, for the purpose of recording traffic stops.
On September 11, 2014, the Court (Judge Snow) awarded attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs, as the prevailing party in a civil rights case. The Court retained jurisdiction of this action for all purposes until such time as the defendants have achieved full and effective Compliance and maintained such compliance for no less than three years. The Sheriff's Office appeal is ongoing.Emily Goldman - 03/02/2013
Benjamin St. Pierre - 11/20/2014