Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Maricopa County Sheriff deputies faulted in ID-theft case

Maricopa County sheriff's deputies violated the constitutional rights of two Hispanic men when they stopped and detained the men as part of a 2009 identity-theft investigation at a landscaping company, according to a federal judge's ruling Monday.

U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell ruled that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies had no reason to stop Julian and Julio Mora before dawn on Feb. 11, 2009, nor any reason to make a warrantless arrest when deputies detained the Moras for nearly three hours.

The only reason the arresting deputies had to detain the men, according to Campbell's ruling, was because Julian Mora told deputies that he worked at Handyman Maintenance Inc., where sheriff's deputies were searching for suspected identity thieves.

Sheriff's deputies arrested 60 employees during the raid on the business, out of 109 employees at the site, on suspicion of a variety of crimes, ranging from fraud and identity theft to immigration violations.

Julian Mora's admission that he worked someplace where deputies suspected wrongdoing was not enough for the deputies to believe Julian Mora committed a crime, Campbell wrote.

"Any mistakes on the part of the John Doe deputies, even if made in good faith, were not 'those of reasonable men, acting on facts leading sensibly to their conclusions of probability,' " Campbell wrote.

Tim Casey, an attorney representing the Sheriffs Office, said the sheriff's defense was hampered because sheriff's officials were never able to identify the deputies who stopped the Moras.

More than 100 deputies were on scene that day, but without those who stopped the Moras, the judge was left to rule on the Moras version of events, Casey said.

"Without that, there was no testimony on why they were stopped," Casey said. "It was lack of evidence. They won because there's no evidence on that."

As important as Campbell's ruling is to the Moras, it bears more significance for the future of Arpaio's work-site enforcement operations, said Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, which represented the Moras.

Campbell also ruled that the arrests were the result of Arpaio's enforcement policies and that Maricopa County is liable for how those policies are enforced.

"It's the first test of their workplace raid policy, a plan they repeated many times," said Pochoda, who added that the ruling could serve as a deterrent. "It's a very important win."


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