The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil-rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office after months of mounting complaints that deputies are discriminating in their enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Officials from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division notified Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday that they had begun the investigation, which will focus on whether deputies are engaging in "patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures."
An expert said it is the department's first civil-rights probe related to immigration enforcement.
... The Justice Department frequently receives racial-profiling complaints against police departments, but investigations are rare, said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and racial-profiling expert.
"The fact that this has come to their attention and they have announced their intent to investigate is highly significant," Harris said. "It says there is enough there to be investigated. It's not an iffy case that (can be ignored)."
Harris said this is the first civil-rights investigation stemming from immigration enforcement. The probe could last several months.
You can read the notice here. [PDF file]
Maybe the DOJ can take inspiration from Arpaio's Brazil-esque reality-TV show on Fox, in which unsuspecting schlub criminals are duped into being busted on TV. They could build a reality show around investigating Arpaio, including footage of interviews with his victims.
Of course, in the past, Arpaio hasn't been very tolerant of people who criticize him. If you got caught applauding anti-Arpaio comments at county meetings, for instance, you might be arrested by Arpaio's deputies. But I suspect that won't work too well with DOJ investigators, especially the FBI.
This is a hopeful step forward in dealing with the mess Arpaio has made in Maricopa County, and will help make clear to the right-wing nativists out there that scapegoating Latinos is not the way to deal with whatever issues they have with immigration. It makes a mess not just in Arizona, but the whole country.