Skip to main content
Press Release

Justice Department Intervenes in Private Discriminatory Policing Lawsuit Against Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joseph Arpaio

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Today, U.S. District Court of the District of Arizona granted a motion by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to intervene in a private lawsuit, Melendres v. Arpaio, brought against Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio.  In Melendres, the federal court found in May 2013 that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) had engaged in unlawful discrimination against Hispanic persons in its traffic enforcement operations in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Last month, the department reached a partial settlement in a lawsuit against Maricopa County and Sheriff Arpaio, resolving claims not addressed in this intervention. Moving forward, the department, court, plaintiffs and independent monitor can work to ensure the Sheriff’s office implements the court-ordered reforms.

In October 2013, the court issued an injunction setting forth specific reforms for MCSO’s law enforcement practices and appointed an independent monitor to oversee implementation of the injunction.  In June, the U.S. District Court of the District of Arizona granted the department’s motion for summary judgment on its discriminatory policing claim, based on the court’s findings in Melendres.  The department filed for intervention in Melendres so that it may enforce the court’s injunction and any future remedies ordered by the court to address Sheriff Arpaio’s and MCSO’s alleged violations of the court’s orders. 

“As a party in the Melendres case, the Department of Justice can now work together with the court, the plaintiffs and the independent monitor to ensure that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office meaningfully implements the court-ordered reforms so that the constitutional rights of all people of Maricopa County are protected,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff of the Civil Rights Division.  “The Constitution guarantees that all people receive the equal protection of the law, and the department is now positioned to ensure that this important right is upheld.”

The department has had an ongoing parallel lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County since May 2012.  That lawsuit alleged four patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct: discriminatory policing against Hispanic persons in MCSO’s saturation patrols, general traffic enforcement and worksite operations targeting Hispanic immigrants; detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment during MCSO’s worksite raids targeting Hispanic immigrants; failures in the provision of language access to Hispanic limited English proficient jail inmates; and retaliatory police action against critics of Sheriff Arpaio and MCSO.  

Last month, on July 17, the department entered into settlement agreements to resolve the claims in its lawsuit that were not addressed by the summary judgment–one agreement addressing MCSO’s unlawful detentions and retaliation, and a separate agreement addressing MCSO’s language access policies and practices in its jails.  On the same date, the parties filed a joint motion requesting that the U.S. District Court of the District of Arizona approve and agree to enforce the settlement agreement concerning MCSO’s unlawful detentions and retaliation.  That motion is still pending before the court. 

The injunction in Melendres, the settlement agreements in the Justice Department’s separate case and a description of the department’s previous investigation of and litigation against the Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County, will be available at:

Updated August 13, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-1013