PHOENIX — A judge who ordered taxpayer-funded compensation for Latinos who were illegally detained when then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio defied a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case is being asked to give the victims six more months to apply for the money.
The one-year period for filing claims is scheduled to end on Dec. 3, but immigrant rights advocates said in a court filing last week that more time is needed to locate those who were illegally detained when Arpaio disobeyed the order to stop his traffic patrols targeting immigrants.
Arpaio, who was accused of prolonging the patrols to boost his successful 2012 re-election campaign, was later convicted of criminal contempt of court for his acknowledged disobedience. A pardon by President Donald Trump spared Arpaio, who lost the 2016 sheriff's race, a possible jail sentence.
While the pardon led to the dismissal of Arpaio's criminal case, taxpayers in metro Phoenix remain on the hook for compensation for the illegal detentions in the patrols between late December 2011 and May 2013.
In the past, lawyers who filed the racial profiling lawsuit targeting Arpaio's immigration patrols had said at least 190 people were detained in violation of the order. But with six weeks left in the application period, far fewer people than expected are filing claims, because of the difficulty of locating victims.
Of the 79 people who filed applications, only one claim totaling $1,095 has been paid, said Fields Moseley, a spokesman for Maricopa County, which was ordered to put $500,000 into a compensation fund. Three other claims are considered payable, but are awaiting a rebuttal from the sheriff's office, Moseley said.
Moseley said county officials will oppose the six-month extension.
The lawyers who filed the profiling case have searched for victims by getting help from foreign consulates, watching traffic-stop videos and poring over arrest and other police records. They also have organized three clinics with volunteer lawyers to assist people with submitting claims and asked community groups to help locate victims.
A firm managing the claims process has reached out to consulates and is working with a group in Mexico to help find victims. A six-month extension will let the firm conduct more searches, said the attorneys who pressed the profiling case.
Seventeen months after the order was issued, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow concluded Arpaio's officers had racially profiled Latinos in traffic patrols, leading to an expensive court-ordered overhaul of the sheriff's office that continues today.
The money being spent on victim compensation represents a small piece of the $88 million spent over the last five years by taxpayers in metro Phoenix to cover legal and compliance costs in the profiling lawsuit. The costs are projected to reach $120 million by summer 2019.
Snow had previously denied a request from Arpaio's foes to require the lawman to personally pay $300,000 to help compensate the victims. The judge had ruled the lawyers opposing the sheriff hadn't cited a legal authority for making Arpaio pay for conduct carried out in his official capacity.
Under the compensation fund, Maricopa County will pay $500 for the first hour of a person's illegal detention and $35 for each additional 20-minute increment.
A $10,000 cap was imposed on such compensation, but victims can also seek money for other injuries resulting from the illegal detentions such as lost wages and emotional distress.