Updated: January 17, 2012, 8:37 PM
A top Justice Department official says that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s actions “cast considerable doubt” on the claim that he and his office are cooperating following accusations that they use discriminatory policing methods. Indeed, the actions of Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office suggest their “true goal is further delay,” the official wrote.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, also chastised Arpaio for claiming that the federal investigation into his office’s activities, which began during the Bush administration, was all about politics.
“This investigation is about public safety, not politics, notwithstanding Sheriff Arpaio’s continuing claims to the contrary,” Perez wrote in response to a letter sent by Arpaio’s attorney earlier this month. “It is about breaking down the ‘wall of distrust’ between MCSO and significant segments of the community. It is about transforming MCSO into a fully effective, lawful sheriff’s office — one which has polices and practices in place that reduce crime, respect the Constitution, and earn the confidence of the entire community.”
DOJ announced back in December that their review of the practices of the MCSO found that Arpaio had “promoted” and “encouraged” discriminatory behavior against Latinos in Maricopa County. Arpaio’s team has asked DOJ to present all of its evidence in the name of transparency, though most of the evidence was the very same material and interviews that MCSO provided.
Perez wrote that Arpaio’s team had tried to set “unworkable preconditions” on their cooperation, “including a prodigious discovery request containing 106 different demands for information such as the identity of victims of MCSO’s retaliatory actions and the identity of MCSO officials who made comments critical of the agency.”
DOJ’s new letter describes Arpaio’s comments that their investigation was all about politics as “dismissive” and “inaccurate.”
“Despite a long record of complaints about racial profiling of Latinos, litigation and media reports documenting bias and the investigation of the United States, MCSO has deliberately chosen not to collect complete data regarding its police practices, such as is routinely collected by police departments across the nation,” Perez wrote. “These data would permit MCSO to identify and address concerns about potential racial profiling of Latinos and adjust its practices to ensure constitutional policing.”
DOJ also said it was “false” to claim, as Arpaio did in a Jan. 6 interview with Megyn Kelly, that the MCSO had “been cooperating for three years.” “As much as you now claim that you client’s cooperation was voluntary, the fact is that MCSO’s ‘cooperation’ only came as a result of a lawsuit and the reality that your legal position was untenable.” The letter maintains that announcement of the findings of the report at a press conference was entirely consistent with practices in other cases.
“The nature and extent of the document request strongly suggests that your real goal is not ‘transparency’ and ‘cooperation’ but rather further delay,” Perez wrote.
Still, DOJ is willing to meet with MCSO to discuss the letter of findings and talk about potential solutions. Perez wrote that discussions must take place within the 60 day period noted in their findings, otherwise DOJ will assume they do not want to come into compliance with the law through voluntary means.
Late Tuesday, the sheriff’s attorney said he was disappointed that Perez refused to provide any more details of the investigation. But the attorney, Joe Popolizio, added that the sheriff’s office wants to avoid a lawsuit.
“We are encouraged that the Department of Justice apparently agrees with our position that costly litigation can and should be avoided,” Popolizio said in a written statement.
He welcomed the chance to sit down with Justice Department officials before the deadline. However, he continued to urge them to turn over more details.
“Only with a clear picture of the evidence can Sheriff Arpaio and the MCSO have a real opportunity to move forward,” Popolizio said. The attorney and his colleagues plan to review Perez’s letter and respond in more detail “in the near future.”
Nick Martin contributed to this story.