A federal judge ruled Monday that deputies violated the rights of two men who were detained during one of the workplace raids the Phoenix area's controversial sheriff uses to enforce immigration laws.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies stopped Julian and Julio Mora's pickup truck Feb. 11, 2009, near a landscaping company that was being raided in an identity theft investigation.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled that deputies had no reasonable suspicion that the Hispanic men had committed a crime or traffic violation that would have allowed them to be stopped.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Moras, who claimed deputies singled them out along a busy street based on the color of their skin.
Tim Casey, an attorney representing the sheriff's office, told The Arizona Republic that the sheriff's defense was hampered because officials couldn't identify which of the more than 100 deputies at the raid had stopped the Moras.
"Without that, there was no testimony on why they were stopped," Casey said. "It was lack of evidence. They won because there's no evidence on that."
'Total disregard' for rights
The ACLU said Monday's ruling could force significant changes to how Arpaio carries out his immigration enforcement operations, which have included frequent workplace raids and crime sweeps in heavily Latino neighborhoods.
A separate federal lawsuit alleges Arpaio's deputies racially profiled Hispanics in immigration patrols.
"For far too long, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies have carried out these worksite raids in total disregard for people's constitutional rights," ACLU Staff Attorney Annie Lai said in a written statement.
"Today's decision should provide some comfort to citizens of Maricopa County that MCSO is not above the law," she added.
According to Campbell's ruling granting partial summary judgment, the deputies detained the Moras solely because Julian Mora told them he worked at the landscaping company deputies were searching, Handyman Maintenance Inc.
They were handcuffed with zip-ties, brought to the business and forced to wait for three hours until deputies determined they had committed no offense and were legally in the United States.
"The overwhelming evidence in this case shows that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies had absolutely no reason to stop these two men and drag them off to the scene of an immigration raid," said Cecilia Wang, managing attorney of the Immigrants' Rights Project.
The judge found that Maricopa County is liable for the constitutional violations.
A trial is expected to be held later this year to decide other issues including whether the Moras' arrest was racially motivated, whether Arpaio and any deputies are individually liable, and the amount of damages the Moras will receive.