Sheriff Joe Arpaio: ‘Don’t ... use me as a whipping boy’


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Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Thursday he would cooperate “the best we can” with demands for changes to his Phoenix-based department, which federal prosecutors said had illegally arrested Latinos, abused them in the county jails and failed to properly investigate hundreds of reported sex crimes.

But Arpaio, whose national prominence is partly due to his pugnacious nature, added: “And if they are not happy, I guess they can carry out their threat and go to federal court.”


Arpaio was responding to Justice Department findings released Thursday that found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had engaged in a “widespread pattern or practice of law enforcement and jail activities that discriminate against Latinos,” according to a letter of warning sent to Maricopa County officials.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez described businesses raided when Latinos gathered out front, inmates mocked with racial epithets and 432 cases of sexual assault and child molestation, often involving Latino victims, that investigators botched. The Justice Department is expected to file suit in U.S. District Court in Arizona asking a federal judge to order changes in the sheriff’s office.

At an afternoon news conference, Arpaio criticized the federal findings -- the result of a three-year civil rights investigation -– as “a sad day for America as a whole.”

In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security revoked Maricopa County jail officers’ authority to detain people on immigration charges, meaning they can’t continue to hold immigration violators who are not charged with local crimes. Arpaio said that would only lead to the release of jail inmates being held on immigration charges after committing previous offenses. Inmates could be transferred to federally controlled facilities instead of released, however.

“Don’t come here and use me as a whipping boy for a national and international problem,” he said. “We are proud of the work we have done to fight illegal immigration.”


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-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas and Richard A. Serrano in Washington