Thomas E. Perez at the United States Justice Department might be a genius, but, then again, he might not know what he is doing. I keep seeing his face in the New York Times announcing litigation of one sort another against public officials. The problem is there is no principled basis for determining just what the Justice Department is doing. Perez sits atop the civil rights division of the Justice Department, so presumably he is making decisions about who and whether to prosecute folks for civil rights violations.
Consider the new civil suit against Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. The Justice Department sued Arpaio civilly, claiming racial discrimination in the performance of the sheriff’s job. The sheriff’s men have referred to Latino’s as “stupid,” engaged in derogatory humor, used ethnic profiling in policies regarding the stopping and detention of folks in the county. If Arpaio loses this suit, he pays money damages.
Forget for the moment that Arpaio is on the front lines of the nation’s failed and incoherent immigration policies. Assume for the moment he’s motivated by ethnic animus. Why is he getting the kid glove treatment by the feds?
In East Haven, Connecticut, Tom Perez appeared at a press conference not long ago to announce criminal charges against several rank and file members of the local police department for engaging in conduct virtually indistinguishable, and less pervasive, than the accusations against Arpaio. Perez and company want to send some rank and file cops to prison in Connecticut; yet they want only to slap Arpaio on the wrist. Why pay favorites in such a manner?
I represent one of the East Haven cops, so I have a stake in the game. Jason Zullo is my client. He and three officers are accused of engaging in racial profiling for stopping cars in which Hispanics were passengers. The case will turn on whether the cars were stopped because the passengers were Hispanic, or whether the cars were stopped because they had illegal license plates, were unregistered vehicles, or had otherwise broken motor vehicle laws.
But here is the rub: If convicted, Jason Zullo will go to prison. He faces criminal charges. He is a thirty-something street-level patrol officer making split-second decisions on the about whether there is probable cause to stop someone. When his department noticed a rash of illegal license plates in town they investigated. Does this make Zullo a criminal?
I think not. I suspect he will prevail at trial.
But why is a rank and file cop facing prison for doing his job while Joe Arpaio faces mere civil penalties? When Zullo was arrested, he was briefly detained and placed on administrative leave from his job. He was required to post bond. He is now on limited house arrest with strict conditions on who he can talk to and where he can go. Arpaio gets sued and he still runs a sheriff’s department?
Why the double standard, Mr. Perez? Is Justice a petty bully prepared to wind up for a big punch against a rank and file cop, but prepared only to slap at a man who regards himself as “America’s toughest sheriff”? Total war against a little guy, but half a slap against the sheriff?
Why this selective application of the criminal law?
Thomas Perez has some explaining to do, and soon. I’d call him stupid for the decisions he’s made thus far. But given the schizophrenic climate in the Justice Department right now, that might get me sued for insensitivity, or perhaps charged with a crime.
I mean, Perez is Hispanic right? He apparently gets a pass if he drives a car with expired plates or otherwise engages in the routine violations of the law that get the rest of us stopped. When Jason Zullo returns to the police force after he is acquitted, I’ll bet he thinks twice before stopping a car driven by a person whose skin is just a little darker than his. Why does Tom Perez get a pass when he behaves like an ass?