Business prof talks going up against “America’s Toughest Sheriff”
On Dec. 12, 2007, Lou Moffa, an adjunct professor at the university, filed the initial complaint against the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio, for violations of the fourth amendment, equal protection under the Constitution and violation of due process, among other allegations.
In late August of this year, Moffa watched on television as President Donald J. Trump gave his long-time supporter Arpaio a full presidential pardon.
Arpaio was the sheriff of Maricopa County until 2016. In late August, he was pardoned on charges of criminal contempt; these charges were filed against him after he disobeyed a court order. They were an outcome of a racial profiling case which Moffa helped to lead.
Being granted presidential clemency allows Arpaio to forgo serving time in jail, but he is still guilty of criminal contempt — he will simply not face any repercussions in regard to the charges brought up against him.
It is common for presidents to wait until the tail-end of their term to grant pardons, and they usually only come after the convicted person has served time in jail and has expressed extreme remorse, Moffa said.
Moffa was working as an attorney in the Philadelphia-based law firm, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, when he started on the case against Arpaio, the incumbent sheriff of Maricopa County at the time. The case centered around Arpaio’s use of racial profiling tactics against Hispanics in an attempt to crack down on illegal immigration.
The case was filed at the height of Arpaio’s popularity, Moffa said. This led the case to be an extremely politically-charged issue, generating front page headlines and making the evening news almost daily.
“He had a PR department in the sheriff’s office, which is unheard of. He spent taxpayer dollars in public relations,” Moffa said. “He maintained a very sophisticated website for the sheriff’s department, where you could go on and see the mugshots of everybody that got arrested the night before, and you could look up archives of that information.”
With a population of just over four million, Maricopa County is home to over two-thirds of Arizona’s citizens, and has nearly four times as many residents as the entire state of Delaware.
Moffa also said that it is worth noting that during the era of Arpaio, in which officers were instructed to proceed with the racial profiling tactics, response times for violent crimes increased.
Arpaio was also known for the way he ran Maricopa County’s jails, specifically Tent City, a facility in which inmates were forced to live outdoors in tents throughout the year. Temperatures often reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the facility. It should also be noted that most of the inmates in Tent City were awaiting trial, or serving less than a year for minor crimes, including working without papers, shoplifting and drug charges.
Moffa said that the issue at hand wasn’t a matter of whether or not action was to be taken against Arpaio. Instead, the issue was piecing together the details, and figuring out how to take action, when to take it and who would be the face of the case. Moffa and other attorneys with Ballard Spahr decided to take the case pro bono, meaning that their services would be free of charge.
The decision to finally go ahead and proceed with the filing of the complaint against Arpaio came when they found the perfect plaintiff ― retired schoolteacher Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres.
On the morning of Sept. 26, 2007, Melendres was in the back of a vehicle driving through Cave Creek, Ariz., on the way to the site of a “day laborer” job. The vehicle was pulled over by multiple officers from the sheriff’s department. With the exception of the driver, a Caucasian male, Melendres and all of the other occupants of the vehicle were Hispanic.
At the outset of the traffic stop, the police officers told the driver that he had been pulled over for speeding; the driver was neither given a ticket, nor taken into custody after the traffic stop. The driver was allowed to leave, but all the Hispanic occupants in the vehicle, including Melendres, were detained by the police officers.
Melendres, who had entered the country legally roughly a month prior to this incident, produced his U.S. Visa, along with his Mexican Federal Voter Registration card and his permit from the Department of Homeland Security.
Although Melendres produced these documents, proving that he was in the country legally, the police officers from the sheriff’s office still detained Melendres, eventually driving him to Phoenix’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office ― an hour south.
After a few hours of waiting in the Phoenix Field Office, Melendres was told by a customs agent that his papers were valid. He was free to leave.
Between the detainment by the police officers from the sheriff’s office and being left stranded at the Phoenix Field Office, Melendres was in custody, without a translator, food or water, for over nine hours; but more importantly, Melendres was not read his Miranda rights, not given an opportunity to make a phone call nor given any information of the probable cause of his detainment.
According to Moffa, the pardon from President Trump implies that Arpaio never did anything wrong during his tenure as sheriff.
Trump called Arpaio an “American patriot” on Twitter, and then later said, “Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders. And Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration.”
“How does that make any sense?” Moffa said. “It’s hard to stomach.”
Moffa added that by pardoning Arpaio, the president essentially wiped away all of the work that went into the initial case against Arpaio with the stroke of a pen.
“That either shows a lack of understanding, or a lack of respect for the rule of law in our constitutional democracy,” Moffa said.