After signs that a settlement was nearing, the Justice Department has broken off negotiations with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office — the latest tussle in the DOJ’s three-year-long civil rights investigation of the Arizona law enforcement agency.
In a letter to the sheriff office’s counsel, the Justice Department wrote that the sheriff’s office has refused to agree to an appointed independent monitor, a necessary condition of any agreement with the government to settle claims of racial profiling of Latinos, unlawful retaliation and discriminatory prison practices. The agencies were slated to continue negotiations in Phoenix on Wednesday, with the deadline to conclude less than two weeks away.
“It was disappointing, to say the least, for you to contact us 24 hours before our negotiations were scheduled to continue and raise, for the first time, a precondicition that you understood would result in the cancellation of negotiations — and, by extension, the initiation of a civil lawsuit — and calls into question whether you were ever interseted in settling this matter,” wrote Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division.
Austin said the sheriff’s office is “wasting time and not negotiating in good faith.”
A department spokeswoman said that as of Tuesday afternoon, the department has not filed the threatened lawsuit.
The government, in a rare move, sued in 2010 to force the sheriff’s office to submit to the DOJ’s civil rights probe, which began in 2008. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose name has frequented the headlines, had initially stonewalled the department’s request for documents. Arpaio has been outspoken since the Justice Department released a report detailing the DOJ’s investigation of the sheriff’s office in December. He blasted the department, saying the report was merely a reelection ploy to win the Latino vote by the Obama administration. This month, he also called into question the authenticity of the president’s birth certificate, holding a press conference to air his findings.
Arpaio shot back Tuesday afternoon, saying in a statement that an outside monitor “essentially usurps” his power as sheriff.
“I am constitutionally and legitimately elected Sheriff and I absolutely refuse to surrender my responsibility to the federal governemnt,” the sheriff said in the statement. “And so to the Obama administration, who is attempting to strong arm me into submission only for its political gain, I say, ‘This will not happen, not on my watch!’”