PHOENIX -- America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff, Joe Arpaio, is likely to take the witness stand in federal court Tuesday. The Maricopa County Sheriff is embroiled in a class action lawsuit that claims his office's crackdown on illegal immigration led to discrimination against Latinos.
On the first day of trial on Thursday, both sides presented their opening arguments to a crowded courtroom.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs told the judge they would show the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office engages in racial profiling, and used race as a basis for suspicion that a person was in the country illegally.
The attorney for the MCSO denied the claims.
"If the truth were anything like what the plaintiffs are suggesting, it would be a very disturbing picture,” Tim Casey said in his opening arguments.
About half of the first day of trial was devoted to the testimony of a data expert the plaintiffs hired to analyze traffic stops by sheriff's deputies.
Using MCSO data, criminologist Ralph Taylor found that Latinos were more likely to be stopped during MCSO sweeps, known as "saturation patrols." Taylor also found when a car with at least one Latino passenger was stopped by sheriff's deputies, it was detained on average about two minutes longer than other cars.
"I think it was certainly appropriate to start off with that," said Alessandra Soler of the ACLU of Arizona, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs. "Because that is the information we have to demonstrate that it is systemic. It is a systemic problem of racial profiling, and these are not just isolated incidents."
On cross-examination, lawyers for the sheriff's office tried to cast doubt on Taylor's report.
"The data that was provided to the plaintiff's expert is extremely flawed data and the exclusions he made are not sound," said defendants' attorney Tom Liddy, after court adjourned.
Two Latino men, who said they were victims of racial profiling, also testified -- along a with a deputy who said when he detained Latino passengers in a separate traffic stop, skin color was not a factor.
The most anticipated witness, Arpaio, is expected to make an appearance when the trial resumes on July 24.
"The problem of racial profiling in Maricopa County starts with the sheriff himself," said Andrew Byrnes, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "And we are anxious to go back to trial and put the sheriff himself on the stand on Tuesday."