Justice Department Gives Second Ultimatum in Sheriff Arpaio Investigation

Aug 26, 2010 2:01pm

ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County, Arizona, man who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” has until Sept. 10 to comply with a Justice Department request to explain his office’s “operations, policies and procedures” involving the arrest and detention of Hispanics, according to a letter obtained by ABC News.

The Department has been investigating the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for alleged civil rights violations. Officials set the deadline following a meeting Tuesday with Arpaio’s attorneys in Washington. 

“If we do not receive clear and specific agreement for all of the [requests], we will conclude that completion cannot be achieved by voluntary means,” Judy Preston, acting chief of the agency’s Special Litigation Section, wrote to Sheriff’s Office attorney Robert Driscoll.

The Department has outlined 51 requests for documents and information on how the Sheriff's Office conducts traffic stops and searches, trains new recruits and treats prisoners held in county jails.  Officials also asked for access to arrest records from Jan. 2008 and to interview officers and inmates at county facilities.

An attorney for the Sheriff’s Office said he is preparing a response to Preston’s request but reiterated complaints that the Department’s allegations of wrongdoing remain unclear.

“I now know after the meeting that they involve Hispanics, but they refuse to provide any specific allegations,” said Driscoll.  “This case is pretty unusual, I think. They don’t seem to have any evidence.”

“They already have in their possession reams and reams and reams of materials on what we would speculate is the thrust of their investigation,” he added.

The Department is conducting the civil rights investigation under a federal provision that permits the government to scrutinize state agencies that receive federal funding.  If the agency is deemed to have engaged in discriminatory behavior it could risk losing federal grants.

The Sheriff’s Office is also facing a separate, ongoing federal grand jury investigation in Arizona examining allegations of corruption allegations and mismanagement.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department increased pressure on Arpaio, demanding compliance with its investigation by Aug. 17, but attorneys had complained the demands were unclear.

– Devin Dwyer

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