The Justice Department has given up on settling with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and is planning to sue the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for systematic civil rights abuses of Hispanic residents, a DOJ official indicated in a terse letter to Arpaio’s lawyer on Wednesday.
“It is clear that DOJ’s concerted effort to attain voluntary compliance by your client has failed,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division wrote in a letter to Arpaio lawyer Joseph Popolizio obtained by TPM.
“It is also clear that we should not discuss anything else by telephone because you will not accurately portray those conversations,” Austin wrote. “At this point, it is best to let a court determine the appropriateness of appointing an independent monitor as well as imposing other relief in order to address MCSO’s constitutional and federal statutory violations.”
Arpaio’s office first came under federal scrutiny back in 2008, and DOJ announced in December that its probe found that Arpaio had “promoted a culture of bias” and that his officers had discriminated against Latinos. DOJ and Arpaio have been in contentious negotiations over the findings for months, but prospects now appear dim for a negotiated settlement.
Austin was writing Wednesday in response to a letter that Popolizio sent to DOJ earlier in the day. Popolizio’s missive “so obviously misstates the course of dealings between the parties that it is not worthy of a point by point refutation,” Austin wrote back. Popolizio’s letter has not been released publicly.
In opposing a federal monitor, Arpaio’s office has said that a monitor “essentially usurps the powers and duties of an elected Sheriff and transfers them to a person or group of persons selected by the federal government.”
DOJ has said that a federal monitor was a non-negotiable part of any agreement. Austin’s letter said the monitor was the first item that came up when the government summarized a proposed agreement to Arpaio’s team on Feb. 6.
“The Proposed Settlement Agreement that we presented to you is entirely consistent with the summary provided to you on February 6 and what you agreed to on February 6,” Austin wrote.
“The Agreement explicitly limits the power of the monitor to the terms of the Agreement; establishes that the monitor shall operate under the supervision and orders of a federal court; and includes specific language ensuring that the monitor will not replace the role and duties of the Sheriff,” he continued.
“Your characterization of the terms of our Agreement is inaccurate and clearly designed to mislead,” Austin wrote. “Considering that the word ‘monitor’ appears throughout the Agreement and you never gave us an opportunity to negotiate the exact language of the Agreement, it is silly for you to pretend that I or any other DOJ employee defined exactly what the duties of the monitor would have at the end of negotiations. Nothing of the kind was ever said and you know it.”
The full letter is embedded below.