Latinos face uphill battle in racial-profiling case
PHOENIX -- Offensive letters, tearful personal stories and reams of statistics have been shared as plaintiffs' lawyers rested their case Tuesday in a racial-profiling lawsuit against an Arizona sheriff and his department.
But legal experts say the group of Latinos who brought the civil case against Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio, known by his supporters as "America's Toughest Sheriff," have a high bar to clear to convince a judge that there was systematic discrimination in the agency.
"These cases are difficult to bring and difficult to win under the best circumstances," said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies racial profiling and wrote a book on the subject.
Mr. Arpaio has repeatedly denied charges that his department discriminates against Latinos, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed.
But plaintiffs say deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff's special "immigration sweeps."
Dan Pochoda, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, pressing the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said his side is relying on circumstantial evidence. "There is rarely a smoking gun in these cases," Mr. Pochoda said.
Testimony is due to wrap this week and U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide the case.
Experts say it's not enough for lawyers to show that a person or a group of people were discriminated against by sheriff's deputies. They say discrimination claims such as these require more evidence. To that effort, plaintiffs' lawyers have presented people who broke down in tears as they described encounters with authorities, saying they were pulled over because they were Hispanic and officers wanted to check their immigration status, not because they had committed infractions.