Feds seek to explore officer misconduct claims

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX (AP) -- A judge presiding over a civil rights lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office has been asked to reopen the case's fact-gathering phase to explore misconduct allegations against some of the sheriff's officers.

The U.S. Justice Department told the judge that the investigation into whether officers inappropriately took items off people stopped during immigration enforcement efforts is relevant to the federal government's lawsuit against Arpaio.

The Justice Department alleges Arpaio's office has racially profiled people, retaliated against its critics and punished Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish. The sheriff vigorously denies the claims.

The misconduct allegations are being investigated as part of a separate lawsuit by immigrant-rights advocates in which another judge has ruled the sheriff's office racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and special immigration patrols.

The agency is examining allegations that former Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz had shaken down people who were in the country illegally. He was arrested in May after investigators found IDs and items belonging to others and bags of evidence at his home.

Armendariz implicated former colleagues on Arpaio's immigrant smuggling squad, quit his job and later killed himself. He is relevant to the profiling case because he was a witness at its 2012 trial, and videos of his traffic stops were discovered after his arrest.

Additional license plates and IDs have been discovered in the building that housed Arpaio's immigrant smuggling squad.

Lawyers defending Arpaio in the Justice Department case didn't immediately respond to a request Thursday afternoon for comment.

In letters to the Justice Department several months ago, the sheriff's attorneys declined to provide much of the information being sought by federal officials. They said they didn't possess the information being sought and had a duty to protect the sanctity of the ongoing misconduct investigation.

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