A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of discrimination, negligence and abuse during one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s worksite-enforcement raids, writing that there was no evidence of unconstitutional conduct.
The lawsuit stemmed from a sheriff’s raid at a Phoenix landscaping company in February 2009 that led to 40 arrests on suspicion of identity theft and fraud. Among those arrested was Celia Alvarez, who claimed in her lawsuit that she was subjected to unreasonable search and seizure and was injured by a deputy during the raid.
U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee issued a ruling on Friday that dismissed Alvarez’s suit on the grounds that Arpaio, the Sheriff’s Office and county administrators did not know of, participate in or authorize any unconstitutional conduct during the worksite raids.
The raid on Handyman Maintenance Inc. began like most of Arpaio’s other worksite-enforcement operations, with dozens of deputies descending on a business armed with warrants to seize business records and arrest employees suspected of identity theft and fraud.
Alvarez was working at the facility near 19th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road and hid in a compartment in a trailer when the deputies arrived, according to her complaint. When a deputy discovered Alvarez in her hiding spot and tried to pull her out, Alvarez hit her head, according to court documents.
Later, when Alvarez was standing in line with other suspects, a sheriff’s employee warned Alvarez not to speak on two occasions and then struck Alvarez’s forearm with a clipboard before apologizing, according to court records.
Finally, Alvarez claimed she was stripped to her underwear and searched in front of men and then later stripped naked for another search.
McNamee ruled that Alvarez did not produce any evidence that a strip search took place, nor could she produce anyone who saw the search who could confirm her version of events for the lawsuit.
An attorney for Alvarez declined to comment on McNamee’s ruling.
The basis of Alvarez’s claim and McNamee’s ruling both centered on facts specific to Alvarez’s detention and arrest at the landscaping company in February 2009, but the case also raised broader questions about whether Arpaio’s deputies engage in a “pattern or practice” of discriminating.
McNamee ruled that Alvarez could not prove sheriff’s deputies discriminated against her because of her race. Arpaio’s attorney, Tim Casey, said the ruling could affect future claims of department-sanctioned discrimination that arise from the worksite raids.
The Sheriff’s Office earlier this year agreed to pay $200,000 to two Hispanic men who accused deputies of racial profiling during the same worksite raid in which Alvarez was arrested. But Julian and Julio Mora were stopped outside the business, and Casey said the Sheriff’s Office agreed to settle that claim because the agency could not produce the deputy who stopped the Moras to refute it.
Alvarez’s case was different, Casey said.
“It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that the court has addressed this kind of action in this context and determined that there is no animus,” Casey said. “The sheriff’s position has been: In this case, you’re challenging the entire pattern and practice of what we do in workplace enforcement. It’s nice that they were vindicated in this.
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