January 5, 2011, New York and Phoenix – Attorneys representing lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) were in court late yesterday seeking compliance with a request to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) to turn over documents and evidence that Legal Observers were illegally targeted for arrest during a July 29, 2010 protest outside the Sheriff’s Fourth Avenue Jail. After hearing witness testimony from the MCSO, the court decided “in the interest of justice” the defendants must have access to all evidence needed to defend their cases.
Roxana Orrell of the National Lawyers Guild said, "Video of the arrests shows Sheriff's deputies reaching into a crowd of legally assembled bystanders to target NLG Legal Observers. The arrests were an obvious attempt to interfere with the demonstrators' legal support structure." Orrell, a Guild board member, was also arrested at the protest.
Citing the Sheriff’s record of threatening county commissioners and members of the Board of Supervisors who questioned his rogue tactics, CCR Legal Director Bill Quigley said, “Sheriff Arpaio tries to intimidate those who protect the rights of the immigrant community in Phoenix. The First Amendment protects all of us from being arrested simply for observing and photographing police actions. Watching the police is essential to ensuring the public’s freedom to peaceful demonstration. Arpaio acted as he has in the past—as though he is above the law.”
According to the groups, Arpaio’s deputies arrested three lawyers observing the protest on the sidewalk and three journalists. The three reporters were released after several hours but the two Legal Observers and one legal witness spent the night in jail.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrested CCR attorney Sunita Patel as she stood on a public sidewalk acting as a NLG Legal Observer monitoring police response to protestors opposing SB1070 and other programs of collaboration between immigration and local law enforcement. The evidence cited by attorneys that Ms. Patel was targeted because of her role monitoring the police is the fact that she was not blocking a thoroughfare (as charged) and that others who were blocking access and those standing next to Ms. Patel were not arrested. The groups say it is likely that the arrest was a selective and vindictive prosecution because of her support for the protestors. The defense has sought documents related to the arrest from the MCSO in order to show evidence of the impermissible selective targeting, but the Office has refused to comply, stating that the request is "irrelevant."
The NLG Legal Observer program was established in 1967. It has a proven track record of monitoring constitutional violations by police, providing legal defense to individuals who have been falsely arrested, and filing litigation against police departments and elected officials to change unconstitutional tactics and policies. The National Lawyers Guild is a progressive bar association founded in 1937.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.