PHOENIX - It was a grueling eight hours of testimony by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in federal court Tuesday. Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office are being sued for racial profiling against Hispanics.
Arpaio, testifying in defense at a civil trial, was questioned about statements that critics say show prejudiced thinking.
Plaintiffs' lawyers asked Arpaio about a statement in which he called illegal immigrants "dirty" and another that seemed to express admiration for the Ku Klux Klan.
Arpaio said the statement about immigrants was taken out of context, adding that if a person were to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on foot over four days in the desert that person "could be dirty. That's the context on how I used that word."
He also was asked about a 2007 appearance on a national cable television news show. CNN host Lou Dobbs spoke with Arpaio at the time about comparisons between his department and the KKK, about which the sheriff said, "I think it's an honor. It means we are doing something."
Arpaio on Tuesday said he said he doesn't consider the comparison an honor, adding that he has no use for the KKK.
Other evidence brought before the court were taped TV interviews. The plaintiffs claim these interviews represent Arpaio's belief.
One clip shown was a 2007 news conference. Arpaio stated," Our program is pure. We go after illegals not the crime. We go after illegals and lock them up."
The plaintiffs also showed an interview with Glenn Beck. Beck asked the sheriff how he identifies if someone is here illegally. Arpaio responded, "If it looks like they are erratic or scared or if it looks like they are from another country then we take care of that."
Arpaio defended himself by claiming he speaks off the cuff and the statements made were taken out of context. He claims those statements are not a reflection of MCSO.
Arpaio wasn't projecting his usual bluster. He said he has the flu and was speaking in a hushed tone, clearing his throat often.
Plaintiffs say Arpaio's office disproportionately singled out Latinos in the immigration patrols and accuse him of launching some sweeps based on emails and letters that don't allege crimes, but complain only that "dark-skinned people" are congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish.
A group of Latinos who say they have been discriminated against filed the civil lawsuit against the lawman who makes jail inmates sleep in tents and wrote an autobiography titled "America's Toughest Sheriff."
Arpaio has long denied racial profiling allegations and said Tuesday, "We don't arrest people because of the color of their skin."
Arpaio defended these these cases stating he "simply passes on any immigration related complaint to the operation commander. It is their job to decide whether or not to investigate the tip." He adds, "I'm not in charge or responsible of the investigation."
During the sweeps that are at the center of the case, sheriff's deputies flood an area of a city -- in some cases, heavily Latino areas -- over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders.
Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by Arpaio's office since January 2008, according to figures provided by the sheriff's department, which hasn't conducted any such patrols since October.
The plaintiffs aren't seeking money in the suit. They are seeking a declaration that Arpaio's office racially profiles Latinos and an order requiring policy changes.
If Arpaio loses the case, he won't face jail time or fines.
The trial began last week and is expected to close next week. It will be decided by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow.
The judge hasn't ruled on the ultimate question of racial profiling, but said in a December ruling that a fact finder could interpret some of Arpaio's public statements as endorsements of racial profiling.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematic racial profiling and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio in May by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The plaintiffs say deputies conducting Arpaio's sweeps pulled over Hispanics without probable cause, making the stops only to inquire about the immigration status of the people in the vehicles.
The sheriff maintains that people are stopped only if authorities have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of the people stopped are illegal immigrants.
Plaintiff's lawyers say Arpaio endorsed calls for racial profiling with the sweeps by passing along the ambiguous and racially charged complaint letters to aides who planned his immigration enforcement efforts and carried out at least three patrols after receiving the letters.
They also point out that Arpaio wrote thank-you notes to some who sent complaints.
Arpaio's attorneys denied that the letters and emails prompted the sheriff to launch the patrols with a discriminatory