PHOENIX, May 31 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday said he was inclined to order an Arizona county to pay restitution to hundreds of Latino drivers who were illegally stopped and detained by deputies working for Phoenix area Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow heard arguments about how much victims of racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department should be paid for the department's failure to comply with orders to stop profiling Latino drivers in a case dating from 2007.
"I don't have confidence anymore about the direction of the Maricopa County sheriff's office," said Snow, who is also considering asking a court-appointed monitor already overseeing some department actions to examine its internal investigations division.
Earlier this month, Snow declared Arpaio to be in civil contempt of his order to stop profiling drivers and others, and ensure the violations ceased. He also said the sheriff had failed to disclose evidence in the case, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of drivers who had been detained.
Some of the drivers were turned over to immigration officials and deported.
Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," is known for keeping harsh conditions in his jails and for aggressive tactics aimed at curbing illegal immigration. He declined to comment to Reuters on Tuesday.
Snow said on Tuesday he was "inclined" to order restitution of $1,500, plus $200 for every 20 minutes a driver was detained, to profiling victims.
He said he would rule on restitution and other issues after a series of hearings in the next few weeks. He said he will determine the criminal contempt matter soon.
In a May 13 ruling, Snow blasted the sheriff and his aides for intentionally violating the rights of the Latino drivers and "misconduct, dishonesty and bad faith." He also found the office's internal investigations lacking.
Arpaio and Sheridan have offered to pay $100,000 to a Hispanic civil rights group, set up a compensation system for harmed individuals and issue a public apology.
On Friday, the plaintiffs' lawyers called for a broad range of reforms of the sheriff's office and asked the judge to order Arpaio to pay $300,000 to help compensate victims.
The plaintiffs' lawyers also want the judge to hold Arpaio, 83, and his top aide, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, in criminal contempt of the order. Such a probe could include perjury and obstruction of justice claims, according to a court filing. (Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)