Court affirms Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office racial profiling ruling

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s orders that were imposed on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in an attempt to correct racial profiling by the office under then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Photo by Domenico Nicosia/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Tuesday flatly rejected Maricopa County’s appeal of orders imposed by a lower court on the county sheriff’s office for its practice of racial profiling under former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest in a string of appeals in the case. It upheld a second set of injunctions that were imposed against the sheriff’s office after it “deliberately violated” the first injunction by a U.S. district court.

The appeals court said the orders were reasonable given the “repeated bad-faith violations” of the first injunction by the sheriff’s office. The judges also rejected the county’s claim – for a fourth time – that it should not be responsible for the sheriff’s actions.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday, citing pending litigation, and a request for comment from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned.

But Kathy Brody, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said they were “very pleased with the 9th Circuit’s decision that affirmed the district court.”

It was U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow who oversaw the original case in which the sheriff’s office, under the guidance of then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was found to have racially profiled Latino drivers.

Snow issued an injunction that required the sheriff’s office to appoint an independent monitor and develop a system to identify racial-profiling problems, among other improvements.

But the appeals court ruling said Snow later determined that the sheriff’s office violated terms of that injunction. In contempt proceedings, it was revealed that the sheriff’s office withheld evidence and “manipulated all aspects” of the internal affairs process to minimize discipline for deputies who engaged in profiling.

The district court then entered a second supplemental injunction that “revised MCSO’s disciplinary matrix, conflict of interest and whistleblower policies, training requirements for internal affairs staff, and complaint intake and tracking procedures.” It also further empowered the independent monitor to “supervise and direct” internal investigations related to racial profiling.

Maricopa County appealed, claiming that the second supplemental injunction was overreaching. The county also repeated its argument that it should not have been a party to the lawsuit because the sheriff and his department “do not act on behalf of the county.”

The appeals court rejected all of the county’s arguments. On the question of the injunctions, it found that “the challenged provisions flow from MCSO’s violations of court orders, constitutional violations, or both.”

“MCSO’s repeated bad-faith violations of court orders and Judge Snow’s seven years of experience with this case at the time he issued the challenged orders leads us to believe that the district court chose the remedies best suited to cure MCSO’s violations of court orders,” said the opinion by Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace.

Brody agreed that Snow’s orders were reasonable given the history of the case.

“These were reforms were narrowly crafted to makes sure there were no further violations of constitutional rights, and to make sure the agency can adequately handle internal misconduct,” she said.