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Sheriff Joe Arpaio defies Obama administration, legal showdown likely

The Justice Department has broken off negotiations with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over allegations of racial discrimination. DOJ says Arpaio wasn't negotiating in good faith; Arpaio says the Obama administration is to trying to usurp him.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / April 4, 2012

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio listens to one of his attorneys during a news conference Tuesday in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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Phoenix

The Justice Department has called off negotiations with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office over accusations of racial discrimination, a move that paves the way for a showdown in court.

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The point of contention is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio refused to accept an independent monitor in his office, something the Justice Department calls “a key, non-negotiable requirement of a settlement,” that was made clear from the onset.

“We believe that you are wasting time and not negotiating in good faith,” Roy Austin, deputy assistant attorney general, states in a letter to Mr. Arpaio's attorneys. “Your tactics have required DOJ to squander valuable time and resources.”

The sheriff denies he already had agreed to the court-appointed monitor. Such a monitor, he says, would usurp his authority as part of the Obama administration's goal to take control.

“I am the constitutionally and legitimately elected sheriff, and I absolutely refuse to surrender my responsibility to the federal government,” Arpaio said Tuesday, adding that he is ready for a legal battle.

Negotiations were scheduled to begin Wednesday, nearly four months since the Justice Department released a scathing report against Arpaio. A three-year civil rights investigation concluded that his office practiced systematic discrimination against Hispanics. In his letter, Mr. Austin wrote that since the findings, his department has uncovered information about his office's “failure to reasonably investigate sex crimes.”

Arpaio, who became sheriff in 1993, calls the federal government's allegations “a political witch hunt.”

The canceled talks are just one more in a series of clashes between the self-proclaimed “America's toughest sheriff” and the Obama administration. The sheriff's efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants has landed him in trouble with the federal government, which has curtailed his powers to enforce immigration laws.

That fits a broader trend. The investigation of Arpaio and his department is one of 17 probes the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is conducting of police and sheriff departments – the most in its 54-year history, reports The Washington Post. Other departments being investigated include those in New Orleans; Newark, N.J.; Seattle; Puerto Rico; Portland, Ore.; and East Haven, Conn.

Despite the federal pressure, Arpaio continues to defy. In March, the longtime lawman announced that members of his volunteer cold-case posse found probable cause to believe that the the president's birth certificate released last April is a computer-generated fake.

The canceled talks come as Arpaio faces increasing pressure from various groups to resign even as he runs for reelection. The findings of the civil rights investigation will be the focus of a forum in Phoenix Wednesday night titled, “Holding our Elected Officials Accountable.”

Citizens for a Better Arizona, which has demanded Arpaio's resignation, is putting on the forum that will feature elected officials and other speakers who have interacted with Arpaio during his long tenure.

“Sheriff Arpaio's decision to walk away from these negotiations demonstrates his willingness to play the role of victim, while real people are victimized each day by his unconstitutional practices and policies,” said Randy Parraz, president of Citizens for a Better Arizona, in a statement.

The group was behind the November recall of former Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, an ally of the sheriff and well-known foe of illegal immigration.

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