* Plaintiffs argue Arpaio targeted Latinos in immigration
* Public statements used against sheriff to suggest
prejudice against Mexicans
* Four protesters arrested outside courthouse
(Adds details from cross-examination)
PHOENIX, July 24 (Reuters) - Veteran Arizona lawman Joe
Arpaio, self-described as "America's toughest sheriff," denied
on Tuesday that his deputies targeted people because of the
color of their skin in a controversial crackdown on illegal
Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County, was testifying
in a class-action lawsuit that will test whether police can
target illegal immigrants without racially profiling Hispanic
citizens and legal residents.
"I am against anyone racial profiling ... today, as in my 50
years in law enforcement," Arpaio, a veteran lawman who recently
turned 80, told the court during cross-examination.
Arpaio was also asked about a news release he issued after a
sweep targeting illegal immigrants in 2008, in which he noted
criticism from former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that his agency
went after "brown-skinned people with cracked windshields."
"We do not arrest people because of the color of their
skin," said Arpaio, speaking in a slightly hoarse voice due to a
recent case of influenza.
The plaintiffs' counsel, Stanley Young, asked Arpaio if he
believed illegal immigrants entering Maricopa County had certain
appearances and whether this included brown skin color. Arpaio
The sheriff, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in
November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his
aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the border state
with Mexico, as well as his investigation into the validity of
President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
The suit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf
of five Hispanic plaintiffs who say they were stopped by
deputies because they were Latino, which Arpaio denies.
The trial focuses attention on Arizona, which was in the
news last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key element
of the state's crackdown on illegal immigrants requiring police
to investigate those they stop and suspect of being in the
The Obama administration had challenged the crackdown in
court, saying the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government
sole authority over immigration policy.
Arpaio faces a separate, broader lawsuit filed by the U.S.
Justice Department in May, alleging systematic profiling, sloppy
and indifferent police work and a disregard for minority rights.
Protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside
the court toting flags and placards. One read "No Justice, No
Peace, No Racist Police." Another read: "We Support Sheriff Joe"
and "Don't believe the liberal media."
Phoenix police arrested four protesters for blocking a road
outside the courthouse named for former Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor.
AMERICAN DREAM FOR EVERYONE?
The plaintiffs in the suit include the Somos America
immigrants' rights coalition and all Latino drivers stopped by
the office since 2007.
Last week, the court heard testimony from two witnesses who
said they believed they had been stopped by deputies because
they were Hispanic. David Vasquez, 47, testified he felt he was
"pulled over for 'driving while brown.'"
On Tuesday, Young used the five-term sheriff's previous
public statements against him to suggest a pattern of prejudice
against Mexicans. He cited a statement at the time of a swine
flu outbreak in Mexico, in which Arpaio noted that some illegal
immigrants in his custody were from an area south of Mexico City
where he said the flu had killed more than 150 people.
"You were associating people from Mexico with disease, is
that right?" Young asked Arpaio, to which he replied "No." He
said that he was "concerned" that the detainees "were not coming
through checkpoints" on the border.
The court also heard that in a book - "Joe's Law, America's
Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and
Everything Else that Threatens America" - Arpaio wrote all
immigrants "exclusive of those from Mexico, hold to certain
hopes and truths." Arpaio attributed the statement to a
co-author. When asked if he believed the American Dream was for
everyone, he said: "Yes."
The American Dream refers to the U.S. ideal of prosperity
and upward mobility won through hard work.
Young also produced letters from Maricopa County residents
urging Arpaio to launch immigration sweeps, including one from a
woman complaining of workers at a Sun City McDonald's restaurant
speaking in Spanish.
The court heard how Arpaio instructed his assistant to write
a thank you letter to the woman, identified as Gail, and
forwarded it to the officer in charge of a forthcoming
immigration sweep in the area.
Young asked: "Speaking Spanish isn't a crime is it?" Arpaio
replied: "No it isn't." Asked if he told Gail it was no crime,
he said he did not.
Another resident wrote to a newspaper saying law enforcement
"should be looking for Mexicans ... Profiling is .... a valuable
tool for law enforcement." The letter was clipped by Arpaio's
office. The sheriff said he presumed it was archived in an
immigration file, "but it doesn't mean that I agree with it."
The jury trial before Judge Murray Snow is expected to run
until Aug. 2.
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by David
Brunnstrom and Stacey Joyce)