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Ariz. sheriff defiant in face of US rights suit

Office accused of racial violations

PHOENIX - As defiant as ever, get-tough Sheriff Joe Arpaio faces a federal court showdown over charges that deputies on his trademark immigration patrols in Arizona racially profiled Latinos in violation of civil rights law.

After months of negotiations failed to reach a settlement over the allegations, the US Justice Department took the rare step Thursday of suing. “We have invariably been able to work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies to build better departments and safer communities,’’ Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Perez said.

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Arpaio and his department “have been a glaring exception,’’ said Perez, who heads the civil rights division.

The main issue that caused talks to break down last month was federal officials’ insistence that Arpaio agree to a court-appointed monitor for the department. Arpaio objected, saying it would undermine his authority.

“I am not going to surrender my office to the federal government,’’ a visibly angry Arpaio said at an afternoon news conference.

The lawsuit means that a federal judge will decide the escalating, longstanding dispute.

The Justice Department had filed another lawsuit against Arpaio that alleged his office refused to fully cooperate with a request for records and access to jails and employees. It was settled last summer after the office complied.

The latest lawsuit comes as part of the Justice Department’s effort to enforce a law passed after the verdict in the Rodney King police brutality case and the Los Angeles riots. It bans police from systematically violating constitutional rights.

The Justice Department first leveled the allegations against Arpaio in December, saying a culture of disregard for basic constitutional rights prevailed at his office, which covers the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Arpaio’s office is accused of punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish and launching some patrols based on complaints that never reported a crime but conveyed concerns about dark-skinned people congregating or speaking Spanish.

The Justice Department has been trying to require Arpaio’s office to train officers in how to make constitutional traffic stops, collect data on people arrested in traffic stops and assure Latinos that the department is there to protect them.

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