June 14, 2011, Phoenix and New York -- Nearly a year after the arrest of three lawyers who were monitoring the police response to protestors opposing the controversial Arizona immigration law, SB1070, that invites racial profiling against people of color, and other immigration programs, a judge signed an order to dismiss the remaining two cases following a motion filed by the Maricopa County Attorneys' office last week. The reason stated was "in the interest of justice."
The protests and arrests took place in front of the Maricopa County jail, whose Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been widely criticized for heavy-handed tactics against immigrants and anyone questioning the Sheriff’s anti-immigrant actions. Trials for the first group of protesters who chained themselves to the jail will begin Friday, June 17th.
Among the attorneys arrested was Sunita Patel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights and long time human rights advocate. She helped coordinate the team of lawyers in Phoenix ensuring protesters’ rights were not violated.
CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren said, “Sheriff Arpaio is infamous for trampling the rights of protestors and immigrants and trying to intimidate those who protect the rights of the immigrant community in Phoenix. But it isn’t just local bullies that target First Amendment activity-- it has become the norm at political demonstrations across the country and state and federal officials have adopted the same illegal tactics to silence dissent.”
In addition, the Sheriff’s deputies arrested three journalists. The reporters were released after several hours but the three lawyers spent the night in jail.
“Targeted arrests of Legal Observers seem a deliberate attempt to eliminate witnesses to police misconduct and have a dramatic chilling effect on the expression of free speech at mass assemblies,” said National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. "Legal Observers are on the scene in large part to make people feel secure. Without them, individuals may react to the intimidating presence and behavior of law enforcement officers, and may consequently refrain from expressing themselves fully. The right to free expression, rather than the silencing of people's viewpoints, distinguishes a democracy from a police state."
In January, attorneys representing lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) sought 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 the defendants must have access to all evidence needed to defend their cases.
Sunita Patel is also one of the attorneys representing the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in its FOIA case against ICE seeking records about the Secure Communities program.
For over 40 years, the National Lawyers Guild’s unique mass defense program has deployed Legal Observers to monitor law enforcement at public events, helping to ensure a safe atmosphere in which people can express their political views without disruption or interference by the government.
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.