US sheriff whose hardline stance on illegal immigration has given him an international profile faces a court accused of racially targeting Hispanic people

Lawyers who say that Arizona's Joe Arpaio singled out Latinos in patrols accused him of launching some sweeps based on complaints that "dark-skinned people" were congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish. A group of Latinos who say they have been discriminated against filed a civil lawsuit against the sheriff, who makes jail inmates sleep in tents and wrote an autobiography titled "America's Toughest Sheriff."

Mr Arpaio, who has long denied racial profiling allegations, is expected to give evidence in his defence today.
During the sweeps at the centre of the case, sheriff's deputies flood an area of a city - in some cases, heavily Latino areas - over several days to arrest people wanted for driving and other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57% of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted since January 2008.

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that Mr Arpaio's office racially profiles Latinos and an order requiring policy changes. The trial began last week and is expected to close next week. It will be decided by US District Judge Murray Snow. The judge has not ruled on the ultimate question of racial profiling, but said in a December ruling that a fact finder could interpret some of Mr Arpaio's public statements as endorsements of racial profiling.

The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematic racial profiling and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Mr Arpaio in May by the US Department of Justice.

The plaintiffs say deputies conducting sweeps pulled over Hispanics without probable cause, making the stops only to inquire about the immigration status of the people in the vehicles. The sheriff maintains that people are stopped only if authorities have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of the people stopped are illegal immigrants.

Source: Press Association