PHOENIX — The personal stories of people who said they were racially profiled in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps took center stage Wednesday at a trial aimed at settling allegations over whether the lawman's trademark patrols disproportionately single out Latinos.
One witnesses tearfully described feeling "humiliated, worthless, defenseless," saying the emotions were the result of being pulled over without justification and treated disrespectfully by Maricopa County sheriff's deputies.
Arpaio has repeatedly denied charges of racial profiling within his department and says his deputies only make stops when they think a crime has been committed.
The group of Latinos who filed the lawsuit against Arpaio and his office say that the sheriff's officers based some traffic stops on the race of the people who were in vehicles. The plaintiffs say they were pulled over only so deputies could inquire about their immigration status.
Those who filed the lawsuit aren't seeking money. They instead are seeking a declaration that Arpaio's office racially profiles and an order requiring the department to make policy changes.
If Arpaio loses the civil case, he won't face jail time or fines.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematic racial profiling and will serve as a bellwether for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio and his agency by the U.S. Justice Department.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide the case. Testimony is expected to wrap next week.
Daniel Magos, 67, a native of Mexico who became a U.S. citizen more than 45 years ago, said he was pulled over with his wife in the vehicle on his way to work.
Magos said the Maricopa County sheriff's deputy who pulled him over in 2009 didn't explain at first why he made the stop. Magos said eventually the officer explained that the license plate wasn't visible on his truck, which was pulling a trailer. But he testified that the trailer wasn't blocking the plate.
Magos said the deputy yelled at him and asked his wife, also a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, to show her identification.
He says the officer asked him whether he had drugs, guns or a bazooka in the truck, to which he replied that he had a legal handgun on the floor of the vehicle.
Magos began to cry as described being searched under his armpits and in his groin area, saying he felt "humiliated, worthless, defenseless."
He said the encounter ended with the deputy releasing with only a warning that the trailer needed a license plate, which it did not have, and an apology for yelling.
"But after his apology, he told me that the stop had nothing to do with racial profiling," Magos said. "I told him that's exactly what it was."
Magos said the deputy, before making the stop, couldn't have seen his license plate from the angle the officer's vehicle was situated.
One of Arpaio's lawyers suggested that the officer who pulled Magos over could not have known the race of the vehicle's occupants because the windows were tinted. The lawyer also suggested that the officer made the bazooka comment to ease tensions.
The deputy who pulled over Magos has not testified.
Judge Snow also heard from a man who said Arpaio's deputies pulled their guns on him during an unjustified stop in 2008.
Manuel Nieto, 37, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, says the encounter, which ended without a citation, began when he and his sister went to a gas station during a lunch break.
Nieto said when he pulled into the lot, he and his sister could see two men nearby who had been detained by a sheriff's deputy. He said the deputy told them to leave, giving a reason he said he still doesn't understand, and threatened to arrest them for disorderly conduct if they didn't.
Nieto's sister, Velia Meraz, testified that the officer became upset when she asked for his name and badge number.
Meraz said she yelled in Spanish as they were leaving that the two detained people didn't have to sign any document presented by the deputy.
An Arpaio attorney suggested that Meraz had used profanity and called Arpaio a Nazi, referring to him even though he wasn't at the scene.
Nieto and Meraz testified that they were followed by another deputy who pulled them over as other officers arrived at their father's auto repair shop.
Nieto said officers pulled him from the vehicle, drew their guns and handcuffed him.
Nieto, who was released from prison in 2008 after serving a sentence for what he described only as a domestic dispute, was eventually released without being charged.
Deputy Michael Kikes, who pulled them over, testified race had nothing to do with the stop. He said the two refused to stop even though he had turned on his sirens.
Kikes testified that the officer at the gas station had urgency in his voice when he asked for an officer to pursue the vehicle and that Nieto made the matter worse by not stopping.
Kikes said he didn't know of Nieto's ethnicity until he pulled him over.
Kikes added that he never pulled his gun, though he noted he had his hand on it as he normally does during stops. He also disputed that he pulled Nieto out of the vehicle.
He said the encounter ended without charges because no crime had been committed.