PHOENIX, ARIZ.--On Thursday the federal government filed a civil lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department, alleging a long list of civil rights violations and abuses of power. The Sheriff vowed to fight the suit to the very end.
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff and sheriff's office that disregarded the constitution, ignored sound police practices, compromised public safety and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said at a news conference.
The DOJ's 32-page claim contains a long list of allegations that fall under three main categories: discriminatory law enforcement actions against Latinos, discriminatory jail practices against Latino prisoners with limited English proficiency, and illegal retaliation against perceived critics.
Perez called the lawsuit rare and extraordinary, and noted the Department of Justice has filed only one other similar lawsuit in the 18 years that they have worked on civil police reform.
Sheriff Arpaio accused federal officials of wanting to make him a "poster boy" for anti-illegal immigration policy and said he founding the timing of the lawsuit, just six months from the November elections, to be suspect.
"I'm not going to bore you with a conspiracy theory," Arpaio said, "But I'm a little dismayed at the Department of Justice's conduct...My patience is running out, this is all politics."
The DOJ based their complaint on millions of documents they had to sue to get from MCSO, but Arpaio's attorneys say their repeated requests for specific evidence of the allegations have been ignored.
"It's akin to Perez saying, you have the haystack, go find the needle, and that's not going to hold up in court," said attorney Joe Popolizio.
"At the end of the day there's no substance, and we're going to ask the court to dismiss most of this, or find in favor of the Sheriff," Arpaio attorney John Masterson said.
After the lawsuit was filed a group of Latino activists gathered outside of the Sheriff's office to commend the DOJ.
"I feel vindication for my community," said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. She said she believed the lawsuit would cost the county $40 million dollars.
Arpaio said he is not concerned about the lawsuit hurting his re-election chances.
"I don't need this to be re-elected," he said, "I can be re-elected on pink underwear."