Arpaio calls Justice Department lawsuit a witch hunt

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By Alicia Barron By Alicia Barron

PHOENIX -- The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for failing to hand over records in a civil rights investigation.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says Arpaio has not fully cooperated with the department's probe of alleged discrimination by his office. The Justice Department gave Arpaio until Aug. 17 to hand over documents it first asked for 15 months ago.

"The actions of the sheriff's office are unprecedented," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities."

Arpaio believes the inquiry is focused on his immigration sweeps where deputies flood an area of a city -- in some cases heavily Latino areas -- to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders.

Arpaio's lawyers met with DOJ officials last week, hoping to work out a solution and put off the possibility of a lawsuit.

"It's sad," Arpaio said. "We just met with these people in Washington, we wrote letters, they have hundreds and thousands of our reports, hundreds and thousands, and we thought we were getting along fine then I hear they're suing for the documents. What is this?"

Arpaio called the lawsuit nothing more than a witch hunt.

Arpaio claims that the department is on a fishing expedition and its demand for documents is much too broad. He said if they would narrow it down, then he would be happy to turn over those documents.

Maricopa County and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office are also named in the lawsuit.

Read the complaint (pdf format).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.