Hours after the release of a Justice Department report that said that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio fueled a culture of anti-Latino bias in his office, the Department of Homeland Security said it was kicking him out of an immigration enforcement program.
Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday the department is ending an agreement with the Maricopa County sheriff's office that allowed trained deputies to enforce immigration laws.
It's also restricting the office's use of the Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify undocumented immigrants.
Napolitano's announcement came shortly after the Justice Department released a scathing report accusing Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office of committing a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos.
The report, which includes findings from a three-year investigation by the federal agency, says the Arizona sheriff's office engaged in a pattern of racial profiling and discrimination, and carried out heavy-handed immigration patrols based on racially charged citizen complaints
The Justice Department's conclusions in the civil probe mark the federal government's harshest rebuke of a national political fixture who has risen to prominence for his immigration crackdowns and became coveted endorsement among candidates in the GOP presidential field.
Arpaio has prided himself on being as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration. He has been a hero to conservatives who prefer a tough approach to illegal immigration, and a worst-case scenario symbol for immigration advocates who oppose the trend of local officials enforcing immigration laws.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s blatant disregard for the rule of law is nothing short of appalling,” said Dan Werner, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Sadly, though, the Department of Justice’s findings of serious constitutional violations are not surprising given his celebrity status among those who have been peddling and successfully passing unconstitutional anti-immigrant laws in several states.”
Apart from the civil rights probe, a federal grand jury also has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009 and is specifically examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad.
The civil rights report said federal authorities will continue to investigate complaints of deputies using excessive force against Latinos, whether the sheriff's immigration efforts damage trust with the Hispanic community and a large number of sex-crimes cases that were assigned to the agency but weren't followed up on or investigated at all.
The civil rights said Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped in traffic stops in Maricopa County than non-Latinos and that the agency's immigration policies treat Latinos as if they are all in the country illegally.
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, has long denied the racial profiling allegation, saying people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of them are undocumented immigrants.
A review done as part of the investigation found that 20 percent of traffic reports handled by Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad from March 2006 to March 2009 were stops -- almost all involving Latino drivers -- that were done without reasonable suspicion. The squad's stops rarely led to smuggling arrests.
Meanwhile, calls for Arpaio's removal from office have grown louder in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, roughly 100 opponents of Arpaio turned out at a meeting of Maricopa County officials to urge the officials to call for his resignation amid reports of botched sex-crime investigations and other problems in his department.
Critics of Arpaio say he must be forced out for failing to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases in the county, inappropriately spending $103 million from two jail funds over an eight-year period for other operations and leading failed corruption investigations against county officials who were at odds with the sheriff.
The Board of Supervisors didn't act on the request to put a resolution calling for Arpaio's resignation on its January agenda. The board has budgetary authority over the sheriff, but doesn't have the power to fire Arpaio, who has refused recent calls for him to quit and still plans to seek a sixth term next year.
The board's lack of power to fire Arpaio didn't stop the sheriff's critics from heaping on the criticism, nor did it stop a smaller number of Arpaio supporters from speaking up for him.
"What is your threshold for injustice?" asked Chad Snow, chairman of Citizens for a Better Arizona, a group that led the recall effort against former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce and recently launched a campaign to get other elected officials to voice their opposition to the sheriff.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Jerry Sheridan said the Arpaio critics are seeking his resignation based on misleading information about the sex-crimes cases and that the sheriff acted immediately to have 30 detectives investigate the cases after the problems surfaced.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and two Democratic state legislators have called for Arpaio's resignation. Arpaio's re-election committee has said the calls for the sheriff's resignation are Democrats who are opposed the sheriff's immigration enforcement tactics.
Last week, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Jon Kyl said they were concerned about reports of the botched cases, though they didn't ask for the sheriff to quit. Arizona's two U.S. senators are Republicans, like Arpaio.
Linda Herrera, one of the Arpaio critics who called for his resignation, said the sheriff has been allowed to commit his abuses because elected officials haven't been able to stop him or decided to ignore him.
"We are all responsible for what is going on in Maricopa County," Herrera said.
Anna Gaines, an Arpaio supporter who launched an unsuccessful 2008 recall effort against Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, said the sheriff is responding to crimes committed by some undocumented immigrants when they come to the United States. She said undocumented immigrants steal people's identities so they can work in the United States, don't pay their share of taxes and use government benefits that are meant for U.S. citizens.
"It's not the sheriff's fault they came here illegally," Gaines said.
This story is based on reporting by The Associated Press.