Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Racial-profiling trial: Plaintiffs' lawyers rest case

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a racial-profiling lawsuit involving the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office rested their case early Tuesday afternoon after calling a final sheriff's deputy to the witness stand and forgoing their plan to have a police-practices expert assess the sheriff's operation.

An attorney for the Sheriff's Office immediately made a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs had not presented enough evidence for Judge Murray Snow to find in their favor, but after a brief 15-minute discussion between Snow and the attorneys, the motion was denied.

The Sheriff's Office began presenting its case after more than four days of watching lawyers argue that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies intentionally discriminate against Latino residents, using a combination of statistical data, Arpaio's internal-and-external communications and anecdotal evidence to prove their case.

Attorneys for the Sheriff's Office started their defense with testimony from the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies who is expected to refute data the plaintiffs presented.

In brief testimony before the hearing took a break for lunch, Steven Camarota said nearly 30 percent of the sheriff's traffic stops he inspected did not include the names of drivers, making an assessment of the allegation that the Sheriff's Office discriminates against Latino drivers difficult.

Camarota said his problems with satisfying the county's request to assess the data were compounded by the inadequate records the Sheriff's Office keeps regarding the race and ethnicity of drivers deputies contact.

"This was one of the big challenges, they didn't have much data on the specific area they talked about," Camarota said about the traffic stops. "You want to have that so you can look for evidence of bias, but they don't collect it"

The trial is scheduled to end within the next two days, but could be extended into the middle of next month depending on how U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wants attorneys to present their closing arguments.

As the trial moves into its third week, the plaintiffs repeatedly called sheriff's deputies to the stand to explain the planning that goes into saturation patrols. Those witnesses have been interspersed with victims who have testified about the impact of the patrols.

The case alleges that the sheriff's illegal-immigration enforcement priorities have resulted in discrimination against Latino residents. Over the past six years, Arpaio has made immigration enforcement his trademark. But those efforts have also been met by accusations -- by citizens, activists and the U.S. Justice Department -- that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination.

Lydia Guzman, a local immigration advocate, told the court Tuesday that the sheriff's immigration sweeps and saturation patrols had negatively affected her group, made up of individual volunteers and a variety of community organizations.

The sheriff's operations forced Guzman's group, Somos America, to devote more time to community outreach to ease the anxiety Latino residents felt when Arpaio began conducting the sweeps in 2007, Guzman said. The operations also led to more allegations of profiling, including one from Guzman herself, though she was not stopped or detained.

Guzman said she saw a sheriff's deputy during a 2009 saturation patrol in the West Valley, and the deputy followed her as she pulled out of a gas station, causing Guzman to get nervous.

"I thought to myself, 'He's going to stop me'," she said. "It was at that moment, I knew I'm racially profiled. This is happening."

The deputy pulled away from Guzman's car after a news van from a Hispanic television station passed Guzman and acknowledged her, she said.

Guzman later agreed with Tom Liddy, an attorney representing the Sheriff's Office, that she had never been stopped by a sheriff's deputy.

The most pressing concern in Tuesday morning's hearings concerned how the long-standing racial-profiling trial will end.

Snow gave each side 20 hours in which to present their cases during the hearings, and attorneys figured there were about 17 hours remaining when the session ended last week.

An attorney for Arpaio's office said last week that he planned to call five witnesses during his case, including a former police chief to serve as an expert on "best practices."

Snow has not yet decided whether he wants the attorneys to submit their closing arguments in writing or in a hearing. Snow said he would rule later Tuesday. He could ask the arguments to be submitted in writing on a schedule with two-week intervals or, as the plaintiffs' attorneys proposed, hold a separate hearing on Aug. 13 for closing arguments.

With no jury in the case, it is snow who Snow will decide whether the Sheriff's Office participated in racial profiling. The case is unrelated to a U.S. Justice Department civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year, though its outcome could affect the Justice Department case.

The plaintiffs want the kind of injunctive relief that the Sheriff's Office has resisted in the past: A declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects and a court-appointed monitor to make sure the agency lives by those rules.

By JJ Hensley, The Republic

Source: AZ


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