Justice Department Presses Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Civil Rights Investigation

Aug 18, 2010 2:55pm

ABC News’ Jason Ryan reports: The Justice Department is turning up the heat in its ongoing investigation into alleged civil rights violations by the man who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff” – Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. An Aug. 3 letter obtained by ABC News and first reported by the Washington Post reveals the government’s attempt to force Arpaio’s office to comply with requests from federal investigators, who are examining treatment of Hispanics in Maricopa County jails and tactics used to detain them.  The investigation was initiated in March 2009. “Absent MCSO’s [Maricopa County Sheriff's Office] voluntary cooperation with this investigation within two weeks — by August 17, 2010 — the Department will file a Title VI civil action to compel access to the requested documents, facilities, and personnel,” wrote Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez.
“MCSO’s refusal to cooperate fully with the Division’s investigation makes it an extreme outlier when compared with the recipients of federal financial assistance which have uniformly recognized their obligations to cooperate with the Division’s investigations of alleged discrimination.” It’s unclear whether Arpaio’s office met the Aug. 17 deadline or whether a court order will be filed. Robert Driscoll, one of the attorneys representing Arpaio, told ABC News the Justice Department has not clarified what specific conduct or alleged violations of federal law it is investigating.  ”This ‘pattern and practice’ investigation has been ill-defined from the start,” he said. “MCSO still does not know what allegations the DOJ is making or investigating.” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a visit to Arizona in March that the Department’s civil rights division was “working in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office here in Arizona…And I expect that we will produce results.” Asheesh Agarwal, a former Justice Department attorney now representing Arpaio, said he does not “quarrel” with the handling of the investigation, but that ”the Attorney General's comments [in March] appear to violate federal regulations, Departmental policy, and state ethical rules designed to ensure the fairness of criminal investigations.” The civil rights investigation is separate from an ongoing federal grand jury investigation in Arizona examining corruption allegations and management issues at the Sheriff’s Office.  Arapaio’s attorneys said they plan to meet with Justice Department officials in Washington next week to discuss the matter.  ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report. — Jason Ryan

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