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The self-styled "toughest sheriff in America" is prepared to accept a federal judge's finding that he and his Arizona department racially profiled Latinos in violation of the U.S. Constitution, court documents showed Monday.
Attorneys for Maricopa County submitted a draft "corrective statement" (PDF) in U.S. District Court in Phoenix acknowledging that the judge had found constitutional violations and stipulating that Joe Arpaio, the county's swaggering sheriff for more than 20 years, wouldn't appeal some of the findings.
The turnabout is a dramatic one for the 80-year-old Arpaio, who's insisted that his department never racially profiled Latinos as illegal immigrants while scores of lawsuits made their way through the courts and the U.S. Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation.
The document was filed in a class-action lawsuit in which U.S. District Judge Murray Snow found in May 2013 that the sheriff's office had systematically detained Latinos "solely on suspicion that they were in the United States without authorization" and had targeted them for special attention in traffic stops.
Last month, Snow hauled Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, into court to rebuke them for producing training videos for their deputies trivializing and misrepresenting his legal findings.
The "corrective statement" agrees to properly represent the judge's findings in communications with deputies — telling them that mere belief that someone might be in the U.S. illegally doesn't justify detaining him or her without some other reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
But beyond acknowledging the ruling, the legal filing goes further: It states that while the sheriff's office will continue its appeal of Snow's ruling finding racial profiling in traffic stops in general, "we are not appealing the Court's finding that that MCSO violated the constitutional rights of Latinos during saturation patrols" — in which officers flood a targeted geographic area in a concentrated law enforcement operation.
Moreover, even if the department wins its larger appeal, the finding that Maricopa deputies racially profiled Latinos in the targeted stops "will not be altered," the statement stipulates.
The sheriff’s office and the county attorney's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. But in a separate letter (PDF) accompanying the proposed "corrective statement," county attorneys wrote that "Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Sheridan are agreeable to signing Exhibit I as written if approved by the court."