Battling a Flu in the Middle of July, Sheriff Joe Arpaio Takes the Stand in Civil Rights Case

Today in Phoenix, America's Self-Proclaimed Greatest Sheriff, 80-year-old Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, took the stand in a racial profiling federal case against his sheriff's office. According to local accounts, Arpaio claimed he was battling the flu, the same type of illness that Arpaio said he had last year when he participated in hearings that "resulted in the disbarment of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas."

Here is what AZ Central reported today about Arpaio's testimony:

The testimony drew from interviews Arpaio gave to journalists, statements he made at public meetings and passages printed in his own autobiography. The questioning by Stanley Young, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, also focused heavily on correspondence about illegal immigration that Arpaio constantly receives from constituents, and how the sheriff responds.

The case alleges that the Sheriff's Office engaged in institutional discrimination against Latinos when it embarked on what has become the defining mission of Arpaio's 19-year tenure: immigration enforcement. Over the past six years, Arpaio has made it his hallmark, but his efforts have been met by accusations — by citizens, activists and the U.S. Justice Department — that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination.

Young and the plaintiffs contend that the sheriff's immigration-enforcement efforts are in part driven by a strategy that connects being Mexican and being day laborers with being illegal immigrants, and uses reports of day-labor activity — which is not illegal — to justify immigration raids.

Many of the constituent letters Young cited requested the sheriff's presence in a Valley community after a resident of complained of feeling harassed or intimidated by gatherings of Hispanic men.

One in particular, from a woman in Queen Creek, asked Arpaio to increase deputies' presence in the Southeast Valley community after a group of Hispanic men "jeered" at her and whistled at teenage girls.

"There is no crime described in this email chain, is that right?" Young asked Arpaio. Arpaio, who insisted his deputies do not arrest people for standing on street corners, said the sheriff's subsequent immigration sweep in Queen Creek could not be directly related to the letter.

"When I send these letters, it doesn't mean I agree with them or to have anybody take action, I just send this information to my subordinates so they can look at it," Arpaio said. "So I don't agree with every letter that I receive." 

The Phoenix New Times posted its account of the morning testimony. Here is an excerpt:

Following testimony earlier in the morning from a deputy, Arpaio took the stand, starting off with the disclaimer that he had a touch of the flu. The sheriff didn't appear to be at his sharpest as he struggled to flip through binders to find various exhibits.

Under pointed questioning by Young, Arpaio denied that he equated brown-skinned people with illegal immigrants, as a press release from 2007 demonstrates he did. Young took time to go over a letter received by Arpaio from an anti-immigrant group in which Arpaio had emphasized statements about how police shouldn't be afraid to check the status of day laborers. And Young played a video from another press conference in which Arpaio said he'd have a "pure" program that went after illegal immigrants first, and their suspected crimes second.

But the sheriff made his worst impressions while answering questions about his book, Joe's Law.

Basically, anytime Arpaio was shown some of the blatant bigotry in that book, he blamed it on co-author Len Sherman. And this was despite being read back his testimony from a previous deposition in which he'd said he didn't need to read his own book because he'd written it himself.

Arpaio was forced by Young to back off from a couple of statements in the book, including one in which he wrote that Mexicans don't come to the United States with the same hopes and dreams as people from other countries.. In another part of the book, Young pointed out, Arpaio wrote that second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans were not part of the American "mainstream."

"My co-author wrote that," Arpaio blurted out.

The New York Times was also at the trial and basically corroborated what the New Times reported:

Sheriff Arpaio, grim as an undertaker in a black suit and red tie, gave subdued and occasionally testy responses as the incriminating exhibits were presented, one after another. Yes, he admitted, that was me saying that my office was “quickly becoming a full-fledged anti-illegal immigration agency.” That was me saying that our crackdown was a “pure program to go after the illegals and not the crime first.” That was me saying that most of the Mexicans we arrested were potential swine-flu carriers. That was me telling John Sanchez of CNN and Glenn Beck that we can tell people are illegal immigrants based on the clothes they wear and how they talk.

On a few occasions the sheriff said: No, that wasn’t me. Like, for instance, when the lawyer read a section from the 2008 book “Joe’s Law: America’s Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs, and Everything Else That Threatens America,” by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in which the sheriff, an Italian-American who grew up in Springfield, Mass., reminisced about his Italian immigrant parents.

The section begins: “My parents, like all other immigrants exclusive of those from Mexico, held to certain hopes and truths.” It goes on to state that Mexicans refuse to assimilate and are immigration lawbreakers to an “astonishing” degree.

Sheriff Arpaio, on the stand, backed away from his book and blamed his ghostwriter. I believe that the co-author was talking about the proximity of Mexico, he said.

The lawyer then drew attention to the rest of the excerpt, in which the sheriff said that second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants have maintained identities “separate from the American mainstream.”

For someone as invested in his image as Sheriff Arpaio, the questioning must have been acutely embarrassing.

Q. Who put that in your book?

A. My co-author.

Q. Is that your view?

A. No, it isn’t.

“Would you agree with me that the American dream is for everyone?” the lawyer asked.

“Yes,” said the sheriff, sounding chastened.

In the meantime, outside the courtroom today, four protesters were arrested. AZ Central covered it here and a YouTube video was published.

Here is what AZ Central reported about the arrests:

Those arrested are undocumented immigrants from Mexico who came to the United States with their families, according to Tania Unzueta of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, which helped organize the protest. T

hree of them – Leticia Ramirez, 27, Isela Meraz, 28, Natally Cruz, 24 – were 9 and younger when they arrived in the United States, Unzueta said, and Miguel Guerra, 37, was in his late teens when he arrived in 1994.

Each of them will likely face a misdemeanor charge of failure to obey law enforcement's orders, according to Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.

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