Discuss as:

US judge rules department of 'toughest sheriff' engages in racial profiling

Laura Segall / Reuters file

Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio announces a new school security plan on Jan. 9.

PHOENIX -- A federal judge ruled Friday that the office of America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, marking the first finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people.

The 142-page decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in Phoenix backs up allegations that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's critics have made for years that his officers rely on race in their immigration enforcement.

Snow, whose ruling came more than eight months after a seven-day non-jury trial on the subject, also ruled Arpaio's deputies unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over.

"For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he's meant to serve with his discriminatory policy," said Cecillia D. Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Right Project. "Today we're seeing justice for everyone in the county."

Stanley Young, the lead lawyer who argued the case against Arpaio, said Snow set a hearing for June 14, where he will hear from the two sides on how to make sure the orders in the ruling are carried out.

A small group of Latinos alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio's deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks. The group asked Snow to issue injunctions barring the sheriff's office from discriminatory policing and the judge ruled that more remedies could be ordered in the future.

The sheriff, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, won't face jail time or fines as a result of the ruling.

The sheriff said his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed.

A spokesman for Arpaio deferred requests for all comment to the lead attorney in the case, Tim Casey, who declined comment until reading the judge's full decision.

Arapio, who turns 81 next month, was elected in November to his sixth consecutive term as sheriff in Arizona's most populous county.

Known for jailing inmates in tents and making prisoners wear pink underwear, Arpaio started doing immigration enforcement in 2006 Arizona voters grew frustrated with the state's role as the nation's busiest illegal entryway.