The self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America," Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County, has filed an appeal to a federal ruling that his office profiles Latinos and bases immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints.

Arpaio's lawyers told U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in a filing Friday that they will appeal the judge's Dec. 23 ruling in a class-action lawsuit.

Lawyers pushing the lawsuit on behalf of five Latino clients also won class-action status that lets other Hispanics join the case if they have been detained and questioned by Arpaio's deputies as either a driver or passenger in a vehicle since January 2007.

The appeal comes at a time when Arpaio is increasingly under fire --not only has his office been accused of profiling Latinos, but also bungling the investigation into hundreds of sexual attacks. Last year, Arpaio's office was found guilty of violating minimal Constitutional requirements for the treatment of prisoners and detainees at their facilities. 

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On Friday, about 100 rallied in downtown Phoenix to protest the treatment of an inmate in one of the sheriff's jails.

Forty-four-year-old Ernest Atencio was found unresponsive in a jail cell last month after fighting with some of the sheriff's jail officers.

Atencio later died after his family decided to take him off life support.

The sheriff's office says Atencio was combative when Phoenix police brought him to the jail for booking on an assault charge.

The U.S. Justice Department has alleged that Arpaio profiles Latinos and bases immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints.

Arpaio denies the allegations and says the Justice Department's civil rights investigation was politically motivated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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