The Obama administration announced Thursday that it is suing Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing him and his Maricopa County office of engaging in a pattern of discrimination against Latinos.
The announcement by Justice Department officials came after months of negotiations failed to yield an agreement to settle claims that his department racially profiled Latinos in his trademark immigration patrols. Arpaio defended himself in response, claiming the federal government is trying to tell him how to run his office.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, at a press conference Thursday, described this as an abuse of power case. He accused the sheriff of scuttling negotiations by refusing to allow independent monitors.
The Department of Justice lawsuit marked an escalation in the agency's civil rights investigation of Arpaio and puts the dispute on track to be decided by a federal judge.
The DOJ first leveled the allegations against Arpaio in December, saying that a culture of disregard for basic constitutional rights prevailed at the Maricopa County sheriff's office, which covers metro Phoenix. Federal officials held off on filing a lawsuit as they tried to reach a settlement, but talks broke off last month.
At the time, Arpaio refused to agree to a court-appointed monitor who would help enforce a settlement. Arpaio said it would mean every policy decision would have to be cleared through an observer and would nullify his authority.
At a news conference Wednesday, after DOJ officials notified him of their intent to sue, Arpaio defended himself.
"If they sue, we'll go to court," he said. "And then we'll find out the real story. They're telling me how to run my organization. I'd like to get this resolved, but I'm not going to give up my authority to the federal government. It's as simple as that."
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