The Associated Press
Updated: Tuesday, 17 Jan 2012, 5:48 PM MST

PHOENIX (AP) — Federal officials said Tuesday they're still willing to negotiate ways to reform the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which has been accused of a wide range of civil rights violations, but disagree that they need to provide facts to back up the allegations.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio conditionally agreed Jan. 4 to take part in discussions with federal officials who claim his office racially profiles Latinos, bases immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishes Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish in Arizona's most populous county.

Thomas Perez, who heads the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division, wrote in a six-page letter to one of the lawyers representing Arpaio's office that "the claim that MCSO does not know the basis of our findings strains credulity."

Perez also said Arpaio's office is imposing "unworkable preconditions, including a prodigious discovery request containing 106 different demands for information" and "suggests your true goal is further delay."

Joseph Popolizio, one of the lawyers representing the sheriff's office, said in a previous letter to Justice officials that Arpaio was ready to go to court if federal authorities refuse to provide the information to back up their claims by Wednesday.

Calls to Popolizio and Arpaio's office for comment on Perez's letter weren't immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Arpaio has long denied the racial profiling allegation and he struck a defiant tone in response to the Justice Department's scathing Dec. 15 report, calling it a politically motivated attack by the Obama administration that will make Arizona unsafe by keeping illegal immigrants on the street.

Justice officials would like the office to seek training in constitutional policing and dealing with jail inmates with limited English skills, collect data on traffic stops and immigration enforcement, and establish a comprehensive disciplinary system that permits the public to make complaints against officers without fear of retaliation.

"This investigation is about public safety, not politics," Perez wrote. "It is about breaking down the 'wall of mistrust' between MCSO and significant segments of the community. It is about transforming MCSO into a fully effective, lawful sheriff's office — one which has policies and practices in place that reduce crime, respect the Constitution and earn the confidence of the entire community."

The civil rights allegations have led some Arpaio critics to call for the sheriff's resignation. Arpaio has said he won't resign and intends to seek a sixth term this year.

Separate from the civil rights probe, a federal grand jury has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009. That grand jury is examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad.

The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America has been a national political fixture who has built his reputation on jailing inmates in tents and dressing them in pink underwear, selling himself to voters as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration.

Feds Willing to Negotiate Ways to Reform MCSO