PHOENIX, Ariz. – A judge overseeing a lawsuit that alleges racial profiling in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration patrols issued punishments against the agency on Friday for its acknowledged destruction of records in the case.
The punishments issued by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow came in the form of "adverse inferences" against Arpaio's office that the judge may consider when deciding the case's facts.
The judge, for instance, may assume that among the destroyed documents were citizen complaints -- some of which were racially charged and didn't allege actual criminal activity -- that requested immigration patrols in spots where the sheriff's office later conducted patrols.
Tim Casey, one of Arpaio's lawyers, said he expected the ruling.
"I thought that the judge, given the facts, was very fair in his evaluation," he said.
The judge had found grounds in February 2010 to sanction the sheriff's office for throwing away or shredding some records of traffic stops made during Arpaio's immigration patrols, but held off on actually imposing the punishment until Friday.
A handful of Latinos who filed the lawsuit have alleged that Arpaio's officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status.
Arpaio has denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people pulled over in the patrols were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes and that it was only afterward that deputies found many of them were illegal immigrants.
During the patrols known as "sweeps," deputies flood an area of a city -- in some cases, heavily Latino areas -- over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008.
Under other sanctions issued Friday, Snow can infer that the records would have suggested officers didn't follow a zero-tolerance policy requiring them to stop all traffic offenders and that the documents would have included a higher number of immigration arrests than records documenting ordinary patrol activity.
Some sheriff's officials have acknowledged deleting their emails about the patrols and throwing away and shredding officers' records of traffic stops made during the sweeps.
The sheriff's office said the destruction was an honest error that sprung from a top official not telling others in his office to preserve the documents.
The office said the traffic-stop records were thrown away after supervisors tabulated statistics from them and that thousands of other documents have been handed over.
Those records completed during the sweeps contained the number of contacts with the public, criminal arrests and civil citations, and provided a short narrative section where officers can briefly summarize arrests or other incidents.
Some sweeps-related emails that were thought to have been deleted by the sheriff's office turned out to have been saved by the county when it was discovered that the county had backed up emails by the sheriff's office as part of a routine document-preservation step in an unrelated lawsuit.