By Jacques Billeaud
PHOENIX —The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff was negotiating in bad faith, jeopardizing efforts to settle civil rights charges stemming from allegations of racial profiling against Latinos.
Department of Justice officials told a lawyer for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that the lawman's refusal of a court-appointed monitor was a deal-breaker that would end settlement negotiations and result in a federal lawsuit.
The Justice Department says Arpaio previously agreed to outside supervision and tried to change the terms of the deal in a letter Tuesday.
"We believe that you are wasting time and not negotiating in good faith," wrote Roy Austin Jr., a deputy assistant attorney general, questioning whether the sheriff's office was ever interested in settling the matter. "Your tactics have required DOJ to squander valuable time and resources."
But the sheriff's office said it made no such agreement. Arpaio said in a written statement that allowing a court monitor would mean that every policy decision would have to be cleared through an observer and would nullify his authority.
"I am the constitutionally and legitimately elected sheriff, and I absolutely refuse to surrender my responsibility to the federal government," Arpaio said, accusing the Obama administration of trying to "strong arm" him.
"They don't want to monitor," he added. "They want to run my office."
The Justice Department has accused Arpaio's office of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration patrols on racially-charged citizen complaints that did not allege crimes and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish.
It also accused the sheriff of having a culture of disregard for basic constitutional rights.
The DOJ is seeking an agreement requiring the sheriff's office to train officers in how to make constitutional traffic stops, collect data on people arrested in traffic stops and reach out to Latinos to assure them that the department is there to also protect them.
The sheriff's office has denied allegations of systematic discriminatory policing and told news reporters that it will insist that the Justice Department provide facts to prove its allegations.
The Justice Department said a 22-page letter that it sent Arpaio's office in December provides those details.
The federal agency said an Arpaio lawyer acknowledged in earlier settlement talks that negotiations would go forward without the Justice Department providing additional information since that information would be necessary only as part of a lawsuit.
The Justice Department also said in Tuesday's letter that it has found additional information to support its allegation that Arpaio's office failed to adequately investigate a large number of sex-crimes cases.
Settlement talks scheduled for Wednesday have been called off, and it's unclear whether the talks will resume.
Lydia Guzman, leader of the civil rights group Respect Respecto, said she wasn't surprised, "It just goes to show that Arpaio has consistently dragged his heels and refused to cooperate with the intention of thumbing his nose at the Obama administration."
This is the second time negotiations were called off, according to the Justice Department.
Earlier in the three-year investigation, the DOJ filed a 2010 lawsuit against the sheriff, alleging that his office refused to fully cooperate with a request for records and access to jails and employees.
The case was settled last summer after the sheriff's office handed over records and gave access to employees and jails.
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press