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Sheriff Joe responds: I'm no 'whipping boy' for Justice Department

Laura Segall / Reuters

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio talks to the media Thursday about the Department of Justice's accusations of racial profiling and a pattern of discrimination at by his office.

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET

PHOENIX -- Sheriff Joe Arpaio said a scathing U.S. Justice Department report about his office's law enforcement tactics against Latinos marks "a sad day for America as a whole."

Billed as America's toughest sheriff, Arpaio struck a defiant tone at a Thursday afternoon news conference in response to the report, which he called a politically motivated attack by the Obama administration that will make Arizona unsafe.


"Don't come here and use me as the whipping boy for a national and international problem," he said.

The report released Thursday said that Arpaio's office carried out a blatant pattern of discrimination against Latinos.

(Read the full Department of Justice letter here.)

The report said Arpaio's office also held a "systematic disregard" for the Constitution amid a series of immigration crackdowns that have turned the lawman into a prominent national political figure. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday cut ties with the Maricopa County sheriff's office that allowed trained deputies to enforce immigration laws. Homeland Security also will restrict the sheriff's office use of the Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants.

"Illegal criminal offenders will go undetected and be dumped back out on the street near you, and for that you can thank your federal government," Arpaio said.

But a senior Department of Homeland Security official maintains that any criminal offender found to be in the country illegally will still be detained, just not in the Maricopa County Jail. Instead, according to the official, those individuals will now be held in federal facilities, not released back into the public.

Arpaio faces a Jan. 4 deadline for saying whether he wants to work out an agreement with the Justice Department to make changes ending discrimination. If not, the federal government will sue him, possibly putting in jeopardy millions of dollars in federal funding for Maricopa County.

"We are going to cooperate the best we can. And if they are not happy, I guess they can carry out their threat and go to federal court," Arpaio said.

Joe Arpaio of Phoenix, Ariz. is the most famous sheriff in America, known for his tough policies against illegal immigrants and the no-nonsense way he runs the county jail. Arpaio is now in trouble with the U.S. Justice Department, accused of violating Latinos' constitutional rights. NBC's George Lewis reports.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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