BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PHOENIX — A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied an Arizona sheriff's request to reverse a lower-court decision barring his deputies from detaining people solely on the suspicion that they're undocumented immigrants.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a 23-page ruling after considering the narrow question of a preliminary injunction while a Phoenix trial court considers the merits of the entire lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The appeals court ruling focused only on the lower court's limit on Arpaio's immigration powers and doesn't confront the case's ultimate question of whether deputies in Arizona's most populous county have racially profiled Latinos on their patrols.
A three-judge panel ruled U.S. District Judge Murray Snow didn't abuse his authority in granting the order and said the ruling didn't impair the sheriff's ability to enforce state and federal criminal laws.
A call to Arpaio's office for reaction to the appeals court ruling wasn't immediately returned Tuesday evening.
A small group of Latinos claim Arpaio's deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff's 20 special immigration patrols.
A federal judge in December ordered Arpaio's department to refrain from conducting such traffic stops while the class action suit was being considered.
Arpaio appealed, arguing his deputies had probable cause to make the stops.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 against the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America."
The Latino group also accuse Arpaio of ordering some of the patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish.
Arpaio has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn't the person who picked the location of the immigration patrols.
Both sides are awaiting Snow's verdict after a seven-day trial without a jury ended Aug. 2. Snow hasn't indicated when he would rule.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematically racially profiling Latinos, and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio in May by the U.S. Department of Justice.
There has never been a finding by a court that Arpaio's office has racially profiled Latinos, though a case that made such an allegation was settled last year for $200,000 without an admission of wrongdoing by the sheriff's office.
Earlier Tuesday, the 9th Circuit turned back the latest effort by a civil rights coalition to bar police from enforcing the most contentious part of Arizona's immigration law.
Opponents of part of the law requiring police to question some people they contact about their immigration status wanted the federal appeals court to block its enforcement.
That provision survived a U.S. Supreme Court review and it went into effect Sept. 18 after a federal judge in Phoenix said it could be enforced.
The 9th Circuit denied the coalition's emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal and their request for certification to the Arizona Supreme Court. An attorney with the National Immigration Law Center said the coalition is assessing its next step.
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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.