Maricopa County settles bias claims against Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to settle long-standing discrimination claims against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The agreement came at a last-minute executive session of government lawyers and politicians. It settles three of the four allegations the Justice Department made against the man who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff”: that he retaliated against public officials, punished jail inmates with limited English for speaking Spanish and conducted workplace raids that targeted Latinos.

The Justice Department’s most significant claim – that he targeted Latino drivers -- will be the subject of a federal court trial that begins Aug. 10.

County Supervisor Steve Gallardo told the Los Angeles Times that many in Phoenix, the county seat, would be happy to learn Arpaio will still face a trial.


“People want their day in court,” Gallardo said. “Most of these issues [in Wednesday’s] settlement are already moot. People have been pulled over, profiled, and they want to talk about these cases.”

The supervisors’ meeting was scheduled on Monday night and mysteriously without an agenda, Gallardo said. Of the five county supervisors, three were on vacation and scrambled to join the vote by phone. None knew the settlement had been reached until the meeting began, Gallardo said.

The issues addressed in the agreement had already been resolved. Spanish-language interpreters have been in county jails since January, and the Sheriff’s Office has disbanded its workplace raid unit.

The retaliation claims center on Arpaio’s actions from 2007 to 2010, when he jailed critical newspaper executives, protesters and even a state judge on charges as diverse as bribery and publication of a subpoena Arpaio had ordered.

The county paid out more than $8 million to people who alleged they were wrongly charged.

This year, during a hearing on whether Arpaio was in contempt of a court order, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow said he had been the subject of two secret investigations by the Sheriff’s Office. Arpaio apologized during the April hearing. Snow had ruled in 2013 that sheriff’s deputies had racially profiled Latinos. In April, Arpaio and his deputies agreed they had violated Snow’s order but denied doing so intentionally. The judge is deciding whether to find Arpaio in contempt again.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Chucri said the county looks forward to ending all litigation, including the coming trial.

“Maricopa County has always intended to settle this case,” Chucri said at the meeting. “We will continue to work with the Justice Department and Sheriff’s Office.”

Neither the Justice Department nor the Sheriff’s Office immediately returned calls from the Los Angeles Times seeking comment.

The settlement grants enhanced powers to the Justice Department, which already had a consent decree in place with the Sheriff’s Office dating back to 2008. Arpaio refused to cooperate with Justice Department investigators, so they sued for information related to his traffic stops and potential targets of retaliation.

Arpaio turned over the information in June 2011. By December of that year, the Justice Department’s civil rights investigators had compiled a litany of allegations against Arpaio, mostly centered on discrimination against Latino drivers.

Wednesday’s agreement requires Arpaio to notify the Justice Department of any workplace raids he conducts and to submit reports and recordings of the raid.

Arpaio also pledged to prohibit retaliation against anyone exercising free speech.