The typically vociferous Sheriff Joe spoke in more hushed tones in Arizona court Tuesday, as he testified in a discrimination case against his department that could foretell his chances in looming Justice Department lawsuit proceedings.
The lawsuit, brought by a group of Latinos who say they were discriminated against by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, is a precursor to the Justice Department’s lawsuit that alleges wide-ranging civil rights abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s department. The suit is a harbinger of what may come in the high-profile Justice Department lawsuit, which is the latest episode in the three-year fight between Arpaio and the federal government. The Justice Department alleges the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has engaged in a pattern of discrimination, including racially profiling Latinos, unlawful retaliation and discriminatory prison practices.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Arpaio denied the racial profiling allegations in the local suit, according to a report by the Associated Press.
“We don’t arrest people because of the color of their skin,” he told the court, the AP reports.
Arpaio had to explain some of his own statements during his testimony, with the plaintiff’s lawyer asking him about calling undocumented immigrants “dirty” in the past. Arpaio responded that his reference was taken out of context, explaining that if a person traveled across the border on foot over several days then that person “could be dirty,” the AP reports.
The sheriff also brushed off accusations that he believed it an “honor” to be compared to the Ku Klux Klan.
The lawyer also asked about his use of pink underwear for county jail inmates, which has inflamed debate. Arpaio said it’s a tactic to keep inmates from smuggling the underwear out of jail to sell on the black market.
“My reason is they hate pink,” Arpaio said. “They do. They may like it in California, but they don’t like it in Arizona.”
He added: “I made sure we do things properly in case I get sued.”