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REDWOOD SHORES, CA, May 24, 2013 — A federal judge ruled Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) unlawfully targeted Latino drivers and passengers in Maricopa County, Ariz. and ordered an end to the practice of using race as a factor in law enforcement decisions. The plaintiffs are represented by Covington & Burling, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. In a 142-page ruling, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow of Phoenix found that the Sheriff’s Office engaged in racial profiling and unlawful seizures in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ruling follows a high-profile bench trial which took place over seven days last summer.
“At trial, we proved that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the rights of Latinos under the Equal Protection Clause and the Fourth Amendment,” said Covington partner Stanley Young, lead trial counsel in the case. “Equal treatment regardless of race or ethnicity is a fundamental principle of our society. The Sheriff’s Office will now need to stop violating that principle.”
In 2008, five individual named plaintiffs and the Somos America immigrants’ rights coalition brought the civil class action against Sheriff Arpaio and the MCSO. Plaintiffs contended that the MCSO engaged in a widespread pattern and practice of racially discriminatory treatment in its enforcement of immigration laws against Latinos in Maricopa County.
Covington stepped in as lead counsel in 2010, joining the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona and MALDEF in representing the plaintiffs. The legal team won an important victory in December 2011 when Judge Snow granted class certification, ruling that the suit should proceed to trial on the claim of unconstitutional racial profiling, and ordered an injunction against illegal detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
At trial, Covington and its co-counsel presented a statistical analysis of the MCSO’s traffic stop data, as well as internal MSCO documents, arrest lists and the testimony of Latinos subjected to the practices of the Sheriff’s Office. In his cross-examination of Sheriff Arpaio, Mr. Young used the five-term sheriff’s previous public statements and other evidence to prove a pattern of intentional discrimination against Latinos.
“Stopping the sheriff’s unjust treatment of Hispanics will not only improve the lives of many thousands of people in Maricopa County but also sends the message nationwide that this type of law enforcement has no place in our country,” said Covington partner Andrew Byrnes, a member of the legal team.
The California-based Covington trial team, which represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis, also included associates Lesli Gallagher and David Hults.
The judge scheduled a hearing for June 14, 2013, to hear proposals for ensuring compliance with the injunction. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, not monetary damages, in the case.