Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Testimony of fear, anger at racial-profiling trial

Two citizens who believe Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies pulled them over because they are Hispanic gave the most emotional testimony so far in the 2-day-old trial involving allegations that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's agency engages in racial profiling.

Daniel Magos, 67, and Velia Meraz were stopped more than 18 months apart by sheriff's deputies, and neither have been pulled over since then. But both believe they remain targets of the Sheriff's Office because of their race

Attorneys for the Sheriff's Office have asked the same question of all the alleged profiling victims as they end their testimony: Have sheriff's deputies pulled you over since the traffic stop that led to the profiling allegation? The answer is universally "no," but Meraz, who was a passenger in an SUV that was pulled over in March 2008, said her fear remains.

blog Dana: 2008 video contradicts Arpaio testimony

"Sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps saying it on national TV that he's going to continue what he's doing and that means these sweeps, these stops," Meraz told the court. "I believe it could happen again."
The case alleges that the Sheriff's immigration-enforcement priorities have resulted in discrimination against Latinos residents. Over the past six years, Arpaio has made immigration enforcement his trademark, but those efforts have been also met by accusations -- by citizens, activists and the U.S. Justice Department -- that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination.

Deputy Michael Kikes, the sheriff's deputy who pulled over the SUV Meraz was riding in with her brother, Manuel Nieto, took the witness stand earlier Wednesday. Attorneys for the plaintiffs pointed out contradictions between deposition testimony that Kikes gave earlier and his statements in court on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow picked up on several of those apparent contradictions, questioning Kikes about his involvement with the Sheriff's saturation patrols and the instructions he might have been given before the operations began.

Kikes initially told the court that he recalled an instruction sheet for the March 2008 operation in the north Valley that included a specific warning against racial profiling.

"In bold letters, I remember," said Kikes, who was serving as a motorcycle officer during the operation.

Snow later had Kikes look at the instruction sheet, on which the deputy could find no such admonition. Kikes also claimed he was in a briefing before the operation began, but his name was not reflected on an attendance sheet that other deputies signed.

The contradictions in Kikes' testimony became more significant as Meraz and Nieto gave accounts of their stop and detention. Their recollections directly conflicted with Kikes' statements. Kikes claimed he never used force with Nieto after stopping the siblings' SUV at the request of another deputy. Kikes also said he never drew his weapon during the stop, but Meraz and Nieto testified that some deputies had their guns drawn.

Nieto and Meraz were stopped after they encountered a sheriff's deputy who had two men detained at a gas station in the north Valley during one of Arpaio's saturation patrols. The siblings claim they were about to enter the gas station when a sheriff's deputy ordered them to leave and threatened them with arrest for disorderly conduct. On their way out of the gas station, Meraz admitted to telling the detained men not to sign anything they did not understand.

Nieto admitted he initially refused to pull over when Kikes pulled behind his SUV, but said he was afraid of the sheriff's deputy and was on the phone with 911 operators expressing his concerns.
Nieto and Meraz were eventually released without receiving a citation.

Tim Casey, an attorney for the Sheriff's Office, asked Nieto if he had ever been pulled over again by Arpaio's deputies after that March 2008 stop.

"I have not," Nieto said. "But I do have fear."

Similar testimony emerged from a maintenance worker who was pulled over in south Phoenix in December 2009. He had been stopped because his work trailer obscured the license plate, according to the deputy who stopped Magos and his wife in a Ford pickup loaded up with landscaping equipment.

Magos, who has been a U.S. citizen for more than 45 years, was not cited for any violations. He believes the sheriff's deputy pulled his truck over for an entirely different reason.

"It made me feel angry ... worthless ... defenseless," Magos said, holding back tears on the witness stand as he described the stop. "After (the deputy's) apology (for the stop) he told me that stop had nothing to do with racial profiling. I told him that was exactly what it was."

Magos said he tried to report the incident to the Sheriff's Office, but never received a return call after family members left several messages. He said the complaint he filed with the American Civil Liberties Union was the first time anyone responded to his concerns. Magos said he has since spoken with investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice, which earlier this year filed a separate civil-rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office.

With no jury in the case, Snow will decide whether the Sheriff's Office participated in widespread discrimination against Latino residents, as the plaintiffs claim.

The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages. Instead, the plaintiffs want the kind of injunctive relief that the Sheriff's Office has resisted in the past -- a declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects, and a court-appointed monitor to make sure the agency lives by those rules.

The trial is scheduled to end on Aug. 2.

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