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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Speaks at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Investigative Findings Announcement
Phoenix ~ Thursday, December 15, 2011

Good morning.   We are here to discuss the results of our civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.  

 

In June 2008, the Justice Department began its investigation of MCSO.   Our investigation initially focused on allegations that MCSO was engaging in discriminatory policing and discrimination in its jails.   As with all of our investigations, our mission here was, and will continue to be, to determine the truth.   We did not begin this investigation with any preconceived notions.   Rather, we followed all logical leads and conducted a full and thorough review.

 

The investigation took longer than expected and, frankly, longer than it should have because MCSO failed to cooperate with our requests for information.   We were forced to take the virtually unprecedented step of filing suit in 2010 to compel cooperation.   As a result of this litigation, MCSO changed course and began to fulfill its legal obligation by providing us with all of the information we had been seeking.   We were able to complete the investigation, and this has been an exhaustive investigation.   We interviewed over 400 people, including Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, toured MCSO’s jails, and engaged leading experts in a number of areas.

 

In short, we have peeled the onion to its core, and earlier today, we shared our findings with MCSO.   As outlined in our findings letter, we found reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution and laws of the United States in 3 areas.

 

First, we found that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing; specifically, MCSO engages in racial profiling of Latinos, and unlawfully stops, detains and arrests Latinos.

 

Second, we found that MCSO unlawfully retaliates against people who criticize its policies and practices.

 

Third, we found reasonable cause to believe that MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against Latino inmates that are limited English proficient.   We find that MCSO routinely punishes Latino inmates that are limited English proficient when they fail to understand commands given in English, and denies critical services that are provided to other inmates.   These actions violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

Our letter of finding provides details regarding these three areas, and outlines the investigative steps we took that led us to make these conclusions.   In the area of discriminatory policing, our investigation found that MCSO deputies engage in unlawful racial profiling of Latino drivers.   We engaged one of the nation’s leading experts on racial profiling, who conducted a thorough statistical analysis of MCSO traffic stops.   Our expert found that Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.   This expert concluded that this case involved the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he had ever personally observed in the course of his work, observed in litigation, or reviewed in professional literature.

 

Our case is about more than statistics. It is about real people, law abiding residents of Maricopa County who were caught up in the web of unconstitutional activity, and unlawfully stopped, detained and sometimes arrested.   We are not talking about isolated incidents.   We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department - a culture that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections.   It is MCSO’s prerogative to establish enforcement priorities.   At the same time, in the course of implementing its enforcement priorities, MCSO must comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States.  

 

The problems associated with discriminatory policing are compounded by MCSO’s retaliation against individuals who criticized the Department.   People opposed to the Department’s policies were frequently arrested and jailed for no reason, or forced to defend against specious civil complaints or other baseless charges.

 

The discriminatory jail practices are particularly troubling because MCSO has been on notice for years of problems in the jail.  MCSO acknowledged the importance of being able to communicate with Spanish speaking inmates in Spanish when it issued a policy in 2010 declaring “the use of Spanish is not only important to everyday communication; it is essential to the overall operation of the jails and the safety of the inmates and officers.”   Meaningful communication with inmates who do not speak English is not simply a civil rights obligation; it is a safety imperative for inmates and officers alike.

 

In addition to our formal pattern or practice findings, our investigation uncovered three other areas of serious concern.   In these areas, we are not making formal pattern or practice findings at this time. Our investigation remains ongoing.

 

These areas are:

  • First, use of force. We uncovered a number of troubling incidents involving use of excessive force, and we will continue to look carefully at this issue.
  • Second, failure to provide adequate policing services in Latino communities; and
  • Third, failure to adequately investigate allegations of sexual assaults. 

We continue to investigate whether the law enforcement policies and practices of MCSO have compromised its ability and/or willingness to provide effective policing services to the Latino community.   One deputy whom we interviewed referred to the “wall of distrust” dividing the Latino community and MCSO.   We are examining whether this wall of distrust has resulted in second class police protection services for law abiding Latinos in Maricopa County.

 

We are also reviewing allegations that MCSO has failed to investigate large number of sex crimes.   This is not the first police investigation in which the Civil Rights Division has examined this issue.   We are currently working with the New Orleans Police Department to address similar issues.   The deliberate failure to provide police services, or investigate crimes, can compromise public safety, undermine public confidence, and implicate important constitutional protections.  

 

In short, MCSO is broken in a number of critical respects.    The problems are deeply rooted in MCSO’s culture, and are compounded by MCSO’s penchant for retaliation against people who speak out against them.

 

Now that I have outlined our findings, let me discuss where we go from here.   My strong preference, moving forward, is to work collaboratively not simply with MCSO but with community stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.   The community’s voice must be heard in this process.    Reform will require the participation of the entire community: MCSO’s leadership, Sheriff Deputies, public officials, community leaders, and residents.   Over the next days and weeks, we will reach out to all segments of the community, we want to hear your concerns and include remedies that will work in THIS community.   The Department of Justice will remain engaged until reformed is achieved, but when we are done it is up to the people of Maricopa County and the officers in the Sheriff’s Department to ensure that the reform is sustained.

 

Let me take a moment and speak directly to the men and women of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.   These findings are not meant to impugn your character.   I believe that you want to keep the people of Maricopa County safe and want to uphold your oath to protect and serve.   These findings are about the lack of proper policies, trainings, supervision and accountability that would allow you to do your jobs in a safe and Constitutional way.   Our goal is to make your job easier and more rewarding.  

 

In recent years, we have worked productively and effectively with law enforcement agencies and communities to implement reforms that reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution, and increase public confidence in law enforcement.    We have 20 pattern or practice investigations underway nationwide, which is more than any time in the Division’s history.    An increasing number of these investigations were initiated at the request of the police department, such as the New Orleans Police Department, and we have additional requests pending from other departments.    In our police reform work, collaboration and constructive engagement is the rule; confrontation and combativeness is the exception, New Orleans, Seattle, and Portland to name a few.   Less finger pointing and more problem solving has been our approach in these and other cities.  

 

I would prefer to take the collaborative approach here in Maricopa County, because it is clear to me that this community is divided, and it is time to heal.   It is time to bring the community together around the shared vision of a Department that is effective in reducing crime, respects the rule of law, and enjoys the confidence of everyone.  

 

It is time to break down the wall of distrust and construct a community where everyone feels safe, there is respect for the rule of law, where “us against them” is replaced by “we’re all in this together.”   That’s the essence of community policing.

 

There is no time to waste.   The problems identified in our letter of findings are very serious.   They affect public safety, officer safety on the street and in the jail, and they implicate important constitutional protections.   Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand.   Other departments have recognized this, and we are working collaboratively with us to address important issues.  

 

The Department of Justice stands ready to roll up its sleeves immediately and collaboratively to build a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform of MCSO.   If collaboration again proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.

 

We invite anyone who has information that they believe is relevant to this investigation to contact us at 877-613-2137 or email us at community.maricopa@usdoj.gov.

 

Thank you.

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