PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A series of discriminatory emails, some containing racially derogatory images of Mexicans resurfaced during the third day of hearings in the trial against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.
The emails were forwarded by Sergeant Brett Palmer, a supervisor in the human- smuggling division of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The unit is in charge of investigating cases of people using smugglers to enter the country illegally.
Cecilia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrant Rights Project, alleges that Palmer “sent racist emails to deputies under his supervision and continued on, despite the sending of those emails, as a sergeant for the human smuggling unit for years afterwards.”
The trial is the last stretch in a four-year-long class action lawsuit that alleges MCSO engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against Latinos, specifically targeting them during routine traffic stops as part of a broader crackdown on illegal immigration.
That crackdown, spearheaded by Arpaio, involved what he called “saturation patrols” – essentially broad immigration sweeps in mostly Latino neighborhoods – and began in 2007, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputized 160 of his officers to enforce immigration law.
Palmer said during his testimony that he understood sending those emails was wrong and that he was disciplined for forwarding them, though he did not clarify what that entailed.
One of the emails, with the subject heading, “Indian Yoga,” showed a picture of an Indian man doing a yoga pose next to another of an individual who appears to be drunk, with the subtext reading, “Mexican Yoga.”
Palmer was also grilled about emails sent to deputies from his MCSO email account containing inaccurate information about undocumented immigrants. Wang pointed out that even after Palmer learned of the inaccuracies, following his deposition in 2010 as part of the lawsuit, he never rescinded them.
In an interview after the trial, Wang stressed the emails are evidence of a “culture” that promotes racial profiling.
“Racial profiling is wrong and unethical and it should not be done,” said Palmer in response to questions from Tim Casey, one of the defense attorneys representing the sheriff’s office. Still, in earlier statements he acknowledged that he did not keep statistics on whether or not any of his deputies engaged in the practice, though he stressed that officers were warned against it prior to a saturation patrol.
The DHS canceled the 287(g) agreement with Arpaio’s office in 2009 over allegations that it led to racial profiling. The agreement allowed for cooperation between police and immigration authorities and was used by MCSO to conduct immigration sweeps.
Palmer testified that he had received a request by his supervisor, Deputy Chief Brian Sands, to look into whether or not deputies had the inherent authority under federal law to detain people solely on suspicion of being in the country illegally – to see if, even without a 287(g) agreement, they could legally enforce immigration law.
When asked about it in court on Thursday, Sands said he did not recall making that request.
Palmer, who told the court he found information that said deputies did have this authority, sent these findings to his superiors in 2009. The information was then used by Arpaio to publicly justify his continued immigration enforcement.
Media later reported that deputies did not in fact have this inherent authority, prompting the MCSO to admit that the information they were using as a basis for their immigration sweeps was inaccurate.
“I delegate these operations to my well-trained, professional staff and deputies, and they make the decision,” Sheriff Arpaio, who took the stand on Tuesday, told plaintiff’s attorney Stanley Young.
Arpaio was responding to a question about letters from constituents containing racially incendiary language and that allegedly dictated where and when sweeps took place. The sheriff said he didn’t base his “crime suppression sweeps” on those letters, but emphasized that he delegated decisions as to when, where and how they would be conducted to members of his staff, in particular, Deputy Chief Brian Sands.
On Wednesday, Young questioned Sands about the letters, including one tied to a March 2008 incident around the intersection of Cave Creek and Bell Road in North Phoenix. An MCSO press release shown in court said the sweep was in response to businesses concerns over day laborers.
“You are not sure if any effort was made to verify the source of that letter that prompted that operation?” Young asked.
“I don’t recall,” Sands answered.
He also affirmed that he didn’t make any effort to contact the businesses to investigate their complaints.
The author of the letter, “Buffalo” Rick Galeener, is a member of United for Sovereign America, an immigration restrictionist group that had been protesting a local day-labor center in the area for several months.
Young asked Sands whether he had considered doing a comparative analysis of crime in different areas when making an assessment as to whether or not to conduct a sweep. He said he had not.
Wang also attempted to draw a connection between letters from Arpaio’s constituents and the decision to conduct an immigration raid.
“What we see already is that the sheriff took those racially inflammatory letters from constituents, passed them along to Brian Sands, his chief, [saying] things like, ‘This is for our operation’ and then we saw those operations happening after that,” said Wang.
On Thursday, the fourth day of the trial, Sands said in his testimony that there were inaccuracies in Arpaio’s press releases about the reasons for some of the sweeps.
He pointed to a disconnect between what deputies did and what Arpaio said publicly.
Depositions during the trial on Wednesday started early in the morning with the testimony of Daniel Magos, a 67-year-old U.S. citizen who was pulled over with his wife and subject to a pat down by a deputy without what Magos called a “just reason.”
Magos was never given a ticket, but was told the deputy had pulled him over because he couldn’t see the license plate of his truck.
“He yelled at us the entire time the traffic stop lasted,” he said in an interview a few days before the trial started. “It made me feel like a criminal.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not seeking monetary damages in the case but for reforms to be put in place to stop the practice of alleged racial profiling by Arpaio’s agency.
“I hope the abuses committed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio end completely and concretely,” Magos said.