A federal judge in Arizona slammed the tactics used by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) during a February 2009 raid of a landscaping business in Phoenix. Mora v. Arpaio, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. (D. Az. April 25, 2011). District court judge David Campbell issued the order.
This case involved lawful permanent resident Julian Mora and his United States citizen son Julio Mora who were on their way to Julian’s workplace, Handyman Maintenance, Inc. (HMI), where Julian was going to work and Julio was headed in search of work. About 100 meters before reaching HMI, the Moras “were suddenly stopped by the John Doe Deputies—one of the officers’
vehicles cutting in front of Plaintiffs’ truck and the other blocking the truck from behind.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 5.
They were promptly arrested when Julian explained that he worked at HMI, where MCSO officers, under the command of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, were conducting a search for evidence of identify theft and forgery. “[T]he Deputies ordered them out of the truck, handcuffed them with hard plastic ‘zip-ties,’ and took them to the HMI yard where they were detained for nearly three hours.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 7. Once there, “Julian was repeatedly denied permission to relieve himself for nearly an hour, …they remained handcuffed throughout the duration of the search and the tightness of the zip-tie on Julio’s wrists caused pain, and … they were released only after answering questions about their identities and lawful presence in this country.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 10.
The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Moras on their claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that MCSO, through the deputies’ actions, violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure. Summary judgment is granted only when there are no genuine issues of material fact remaining, thus the moving party must win. Fed. Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). In essence, even if the court viewed the facts in the most favorable way possible for the officers, the court concluded that the stop still violated the Constitution.
Addressing the constitutionality of the deputies’ stop, as Judge Campbell explained, “[f]or a law enforcement officer ‘to initiate an investigatory stop of a motorist, there must at least exist reasonable suspicion that the motorist is engaging in illegal activity.’” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 4 (quoting Liberal v. Estrada, 632 F.3d 1064, 1077 (9th cir. 2011)).
The Court had little trouble determining that “when the John Doe Deputies stopped Plaintiffs, they had no suspicion, reasonable or otherwise, that Plaintiffs were in violation of the traffic laws or engaged in criminal activity.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 5. Consequently, the Court found that the plaintiffs were stopped in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 7.
The Court then addressed whether the Moras were arrested in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures. “Under the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless arrest is constitutional only if it is based on probable cause.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 8 (citing United States v. Thornton, 710 F.2d 513, 515 (9th Cir. 1983)). “Probable cause is ‘defined in terms of facts and circumstances sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense.’” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 8 (quoting Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1975)).
Because “the only fact supporting Plaintiffs’ arrest is the statement by Julian that he was an HMI employee,” the Court determined that a prudent person would not have concluded that father or son had committed or were committing a criminal offense. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 9. As such, “[t]he Court finds that the warrantless arrest of Plaintiffs was made without probable cause and, therefore, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 9. The Court then turned to whether the Moras were detained unconstitutionally. As the Court explained, “‘the police may detain a building’s occupants while officers execute a search warrant as long as the detention is reasonable.’” Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 10 (quoting Dawson v. City of Seattle, 435 F.3d 1054, 1064 (9th Cir. 2006)). Though the Court found the plaintiffs’ arguments that they were detained unreasonably to have “some persuasive force,” it declined to decide the matter. Instead, the Court determined that material facts remain in dispute; therefore, it is appropriate for a jury to determine whether the MCSO officers’ acted unreasonably. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 10.
Because the Moras “presented substantial evidence showing that they were stopped and arrested as a result of MCSO’s well-established policies and standard operating procedures for employer immigration raids, as promulgated and ratified by Sheriff Arpaio,” the county is subject to liability as a result of MCSO’s unconstitutional behavior. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 11-12.
The Court then denied all efforts by the MCSO, Arpaio in his official and personal capacities, and individual officers to obtain judgment on the Moras’ claims prior to trial except those that the Moras conceded. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 13. The surviving claims mostly involve tort allegations against individual officers and Arpaio, including false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, and battery. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 13. Importantly, the Court allowed the claims against Arpaio in his private, personal capacity to go forward. Mora, No. CV-09-1719-PHX-DGC, slip op. at 16.
More information about this case is available from the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Update (July 8, 2011): The ACLU of Arizona reports that the MCSO agreed to pay the Moras $200,000 to settle this lawsuit.