Attorneys bringing a racial-profiling case against the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court were put on notice before the trial started that they would need substantial evidence, beyond the statements of victims pulled over by sheriff’s deputies, to prevail in the case, reports the Arizona Republic. As the trial began Thursday at downtown Phoenix’s federal courthouse, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow added another wrinkle, informing both sides that he planned to make a decision based on the facts as they stand today, not as they were when he took over the case in 2009.
Before the first day’s hearing ended, both factors came into play in the trial that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s attorneys have described as a landmark case. The “bench” trial is expected to take place over six days during the next two weeks. Each side has been limited to 20 hours for their presentations before Snow decides whether Arpaio’s department has engaged in racial profiling. The case, now certified as a class-action, began when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist in the U.S. legally, was stopped outside a church in Cave Creek where day laborers were known to gather. Melendres, the passenger in a car driven by a white driver, claims that deputies detained him for nine hours and that the detention was unlawful.