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Homeland Security limits ties with Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio

December 15, 2011 |  2:14 pm

Homeland Security distances itself from Sheriff Joe Arpaio

The Department of Homeland Security reacted quickly Thursday to news that the Justice Department had accused Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff known for his tough policies on illegal immigration, of a “pattern of misconduct” that permitted unlawful arrests and excessive force against Latinos.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department was ending one agreement with Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and restricting the office’s access to another Homeland Security program.

“Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust,” Napolitano said. “DHS will not be a party to such practices. Accordingly, and effective immediately, DHS is terminating MCSO's 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office access to the Secure Communities program.”

Under the 287(g) program, Arpaio’s deputies could question jail inmates about their immigration status. Under Secure Communities, fingerprints collected by state and local police are shared with immigration authorities to identify and deport tens of thousands of people each year.

Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did representatives for Arpaio and the Sheriff's Department. Arpaio has scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, who represents part of Maricopa County, praised Homeland Security for terminating Maricopa County's participation in the 287(g) jail program, saying it underscored how serious the Justice Department’s findings were.

“It's been used wrongly and in a very abusive way,” Grijalva, longtime critic of the sheriff, said in an interview.

Of all the Justice Department’s findings, Grijalva found the most egregious to be Arpaio's pattern of lashing out against his critics, which Grijalva said silenced people who would otherwise speak up for the county's mistreated Latino residents.

“I don't know if this is the tipping point,” Grijalva said in regards to Arpaio's law enforcement career. “It should be.”

Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney for Arizona, represented two elected officials, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, who butted heads with Arpaio at what he characterized as considerable political risk. He called the Department of Justice findings “vindication for individuals willing to speak out against Joe Arpaio.”

“This is a pattern for Sheriff Arpaio,” he said. “If you openly disagree with him ... ‘we will investigate you.’”

In 2008, when Gordon called for a federal investigation into Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics, Arpaio's office responded by demanding the mayor's emails and phone logs. Then, Arpaio had sometimes-critic Stapley, a Republican, arrested on suspicion of failing to properly disclose business interests. Prosecutors dropped the case. A second attempted prosecution of Stapley for allegedly misusing money he'd raised also went nowhere.

“Those actions were very much like the actions of a Third World dictator,” a Charlton aide said Thursday. “If not for the federal government ... this county would be run like a fiefdom.”

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-- Ashley Powers

Photo: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announces at a news conference in May the arrest of a sheriff's deputy and two detention officers in drug and human smuggling cases in Phoenix. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press

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