By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A controversial Arizona sheriff is demanding that the U.S. government pay an estimated $39 million to cover the costs of complying with a federal court order that found his deputies had racially profiled Latino drivers, officials said on Friday.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, seen as a divisive figure in the national debate on immigration reform, says the government is to blame for improperly training his staff in conducting crime suppression operations that led to the sanctions, and should reimburse the county for money to be spent on remedies.
"It is neither appropriate nor fair that the taxpayers of Maricopa County be responsible for the costs and expenses incurred in this matter," he wrote in the letter, sent late on Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the general counsel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix.
A federal judge in May ordered Arpaio to ensure that his deputies stop using race when making law enforcement decisions, in response to a lawsuit filed in 2007 that tested whether police could target unauthorized immigrants without also profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.
U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ordered that an independent court monitor be appointed to oversee the operations of Arpaio, who has been dubbed "America's Toughest Sheriff."
Snow also ordered that other steps be taken, including appointing a community advisory board, audio and video recording of all traffic stops, increased training of sheriff's office employees and the implementation of comprehensive record keeping.
Arpaio denies that his deputies racially profile and has appealed the court order.
Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and the plaintiffs' counsel in the lawsuit, said the six-term sheriff should stop blaming others and start complying with the judge's decision.
"The trial record was crystal clear," Wang said. "The sheriff engaged in intentional discrimination against Latinos and he said he would stick with his policies whether or not the federal government agreed."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)