By Jacques Billeaud
PHOENIX — The U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge to reject Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's request to dismiss parts of a lawsuit by the federal government that alleges the sheriff's office has committed a wide range of civil rights violations.
Lawyers for the Justice Department asked the court on Friday to deny the Arizona sheriff's request to be dismissed from the lawsuit and throw out claims that the sheriff's office treats Latinos differently than other people.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last month accusing Arpaio's office of racially profiling Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols, retaliating against its critics and punishing Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish.
The lawsuit also accused Arpaio's office of launching some immigration patrols based on citizen letters that complained about people with dark skin congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish but never reported an actual crime.
The sheriff has long denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of them are illegal immigrants.
Arpaio has said the Justice Department's lawsuit is a politically motivated attack by the Obama administration as a way to court Latino voters in a presidential election year. The sheriff's jurisdiction covers most of the metropolitan Phoenix area.
Arpaio's lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to dismiss his office from the lawsuit and throw out the Justice Department's claims, arguing that federal authorities haven't backed up its allegation.
His lawyers also argued that the sheriff's office can't be sued.
The Justice Department responded by saying it has provided proof and that the sheriff's traffic patrols have targeted Latinos. It also said that Arpaio's office routinely detains Latinos who are in cars to determine their immigration status.
The Justice Department also said Arpaio can be sued because his office accepts federal funding and is therefore required to follow civil rights laws.
Separate from the Justice Department's allegations, a lawsuit that claims Arpaio's deputies racially profiled Latinos in immigration patrols was scheduled for a July 19 trial in federal court.
A small group of Latinos who filed the lawsuit alleged that officers based some traffic stops on the race of the drivers of in the vehicles, and made the stops so they could inquire about the driver's immigration status. Arpaio denied those allegations.
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