By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Lawyers representing Hispanic drivers who say they were racially profiled by a controversial Arizona lawman who bills himself as "America's toughest sheriff" rested their case on Tuesday in the third week of a federal class-action trial.
The case in U.S. District Court in Phoenix against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office will test whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling Hispanic citizens and legal residents.
The judge in the case, Murray Snow, ordered closing statements to be submitted in writing on August 9, with rebuttals submitted a week later. He said he would rule after that.
The trial has focused attention again on law enforcement and immigration issues in Arizona. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key element of the state's crackdown on illegal immigrants requiring police to investigate those they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally.
Arpaio, 80, testified under oath last week that he was against "anyone racial profiling" and denied his office arrested "people because of the color of their skin."
Cecillia Wang, a counsel for the plaintiffs, said her side had proven the charges against Arpaio and his office, and that sheriff's officers had admitted in court that "Hispanic ethnicity" was a factor in developing suspicion of illegal immigration status during traffic stops.
Other evidence presented showed "top brass" at the office circulated anti-Latino materials, "sending the message that race discrimination would be tolerated," Wang said.
The sheriff, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the state bordering Mexico.
The suit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf of five people of Hispanic background who said they were stopped by deputies because of their ethnicity, which Arpaio denies.
Tim Casey, counsel for the defense, asked the judge on Tuesday to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs had not showed sufficient evidence for him to rule in their favor.
The judge denied the motion.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)
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