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‘Stupid Mexicans,’ ‘Mexican Bitches,’ and Brutality Against Pregnant Woman: Disturbing Details about ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ Emerge in DOJ Lawsuit

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Brutality and racist abuse are part of a “pattern of unconstitutional conduct” against Latinos, especially immigrants, according to a lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice against Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the so-called “Toughest Sheriff in America.”

The DOJ is suing Arpaio in federal court for abusing Latinos. Allegations against him include police brutality, racial profiling, abuse in jails and retaliation against those who stand against him.

In a suit filed Thursday in US District Court in Phoenix, Arpaio, 79, is alleged to have encouraged his deputies to racially profile Latino drivers and then jail them without advising them of their rights.

“If you look Latino, you are too often fair game,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who leads the DOJ’s civil rights division, said in filing the suit.

Arpaio’s deputies are accused of acts of shocking brutality. In one instance, a Latina– and a US citizen– who was five months pregnant was stopped as she entered her own driveway. After she refused an order to sit on the hood of her car, a deputy bashed her belly-first into the vehicle. She was then dragged to a police vehicle and locked inside for half an hour– in the middle of the desert– with no air conditioning. She was then cited for failure to show identification.

The suit also alleges that Spanish-speaking jail inmates were sometimes refused language assistance and officers “forced Latino prisoners with limited English skills to sign key legal documents printed in English, in which they forfeited key rights.”

While in jail, Latinos were allegedly often subject to racist abuse, and a culture of racism pervaded the facility. Jail officials called Latino inmates “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches” and “stupid Mexicans.” A high-ranking official sent out an email showing a Chihuahua in a swimsuit. “A rare photo of a Mexican Navy SEAL,” the caption read.

The federal suit also alleges that Arpaio retaliated against those who stood up to him, including judges, lawyers and community leaders. These critics were targeted with “baseless” prosecution and “unfounded” lawsuits.

“Nobody is above the law,” Perez said in filing the suit. “Nobody can misuse the legal process to silence those with different opinions.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that Arpaio once said that many Latinos were leaving Phoenix because they were afraid of him and his racist crackdown.

“I think we’re doing something good, if they’re leaving,” he said.

Arpaio was helped by SB 1070, the discriminatory state law passed in 2010 which made it a crime to be without immigration papers and gave police sweeping powers to stop and detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

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