By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX, July 25 (Reuters) - A U.S. Latino citizen fought back tears at an Arizona sheriff's racial profiling trial on Wednesday as he described being pulled over by a deputy and having his groin frisked during a traffic stop he said was motivated by his ethnicity.
Contractor Daniel Magos, 67, testified at the civil trial of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that he was pulled over by a deputy as he drove with his U.S.-born wife to meet a client in December 2009, ostensibly because of a missing license plate on the trailer of his pickup.
Magos described the deputy "yelling" at him and his wife during the stop, at which he provided his license and insurance papers and declared a legally-held handgun.
Told to spread his legs while being searched, Magos fought back tears when he was asked to describe how he felt being patted down in the underarms and groin.
"Humiliated, worthless, defenseless," he said of the morning traffic stop in the Phoenix valley, which did not result in any charges or citations.
Arpaio, who styles himself "America's toughest sheriff," is on trial in U.S. District Court in Phoenix in a class-action lawsuit that will test whether police can target undocumented immigrants without racially profiling Hispanic citizens and legal residents.
The 80-year-old lawman testified under oath on Tuesday he was against "anyone racial profiling" and denied that his office arrested "people because of the color of their skin."
The sheriff, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the border state with Mexico, as well as his investigation into the validity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
The suit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf of five Hispanics who say they were stopped by deputies because they were Latino, which Arpaio denies.
The trial focuses attention on Arizona, which was in the news last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key element of the state's crackdown on undocumented immigrants requiring police to investigate those they stop and suspect of being in the country without documentation.
The Obama administration had challenged the crackdown in court, saying the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government sole authority over immigration policy.
Arpaio faces a separate, broader lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in May, alleging systematic profiling, sloppy and indifferent police work and a disregard for minority rights.
The plaintiffs in the suit include the Somos America immigrants' rights coalition and all Latino drivers stopped by the office since 2007.
Magos, who was born in Mexico and took up U.S. citizenship 45 years ago, said the deputy later apologized and told him the stop "had nothing to do with racial profiling," which Magos disputed.
"I told him that's exactly what it was." Magos testified, saying he took down the deputy's name and badge number, and days later lodged a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Asked if the incident changed his view of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, or MCSO, he said: "I lost respect for the MCSO's deputies and sheriff." Asked if he felt he was treated differently for his ethnicity, he said "Yes."
The court also heard testimony from deputy Michael Kikes, a motorcycle officer who took part in an immigration sweep over two days in March 2008.
Kikes described pulling over a sport utility vehicle with a Hispanic driver during the operation. Asked if the arrest, which resulted in no charges, was motivated by race or ethnicity, he said: "No."
The jury trial before Judge Murray Snow is expected to run until August 2. (Reporting By Tim Gaynor; Editing by Greg McCune and Todd Eastham)
Maricopa County Employees Call Latinos Derogatory Names
Jail employees frequently refer to Latinos as "wetbacks," "Mexican bitches," and "stupid Mexicans," according to the lawsuit. An email that included a photography of a Chihahua dressed in swimming gear with the caption "A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal" was widely distributed by sheriff's office supervisors.
Officers Mistreat Latinos In Routine Traffic Enforcement
The lawsuit recounts how a Latina woman who was five-months pregnant and a U.S. citizen was stopped as she pulled into the driveway. "After she exited her car, the officer then insisted that she sit on the hood of the car. When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, puled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then dragged her to the patrol car and shoved her into the backseat," reads the complaint. She was cited for failure to provide identification, which was later changed to failure to provide proof of insurance. The issue was resolved when the woman proved she had insurance to a court. In yet another case, two officers followed a Latina U.S. citizen a quarter of a mile to her home without flashing their lights. When she arrived home, they insisted that she stay in the car. The reason for the stop was a "non-functioning license plate light." After she tried to enter her home, officers took her to the ground, kneed her in the back and handcuffed her. She was brought to a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) substation and cited for "disorderly conduct," which was later dismissed, according to the lawsuit.
Latinos Are Indiscriminately Detained In Immigration Raids
A Latina born in the United States was taken into custody for four hours in a raid to determine her immigration status. Arpaio was quoted in response, "That's just normal police work. You sometimes take people in for probable cause for questioning and they're released." The suit notes that the reason for her detainment -- being Latina and present during a raid -- were insufficient.
Arpaio And MCSO Staff Foster Discrimination Against Latinos
Arpaio received a letter reading, "If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin. Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegals who are here illegally. ... I'm begging you to come over ... and round them all up." The sheriff labeled this as "intelligence" and forwarded to his deputy chief of enforcement operations for someone to "handle this." Upon receiving a letter backing the policy of "stopping Mexicans to make sure they are legal," he sent a letter of appreciation to the authors and kept three copies for himself, according to the lawsuit. An email circulated among MCSO staff had an image of a fake driver's license from "Mexifornia" and listed the driver's class as "illegal alien."
MCSO Employees Fail To Provide Assistance To Prisoners With Limited English
The failure to provide adequate language assistance caused some female Latina prisoners to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation, alleges the suit. Others have allegedly been put in solitary confinement for "extended periods of time" for not understanding a command in English.
MCSO Arrests Arpaio Critics Expressing Their First Amendment Rights
The suit claims on multiple occasions that people were arrested for merely applauding against the office's immigration policies. The judge presiding over the case of the arrestees found that the deputy who made the arrest "believes it is his role to make uncomfortable anyone who express[es] views that disagree with the sheriff" and that he had "trampled" over the First Amendment. The court acquitted them.