Who is Joe Arpaio?

Joe Arpaio with detainees at his Tent City, which has been slapped with a federal lawsuit. Peter Yang

The August 16, 2012, issue of Rolling Stone Magazine contained an article written by staff writer Joe Hagan entitled, “The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” The full text of that article can be read here. This blog post is is a very brief synopsis of some of the main points of that article.

You may recall that on Friday night, under cover of hurricane Harvey, Pres. Trump used his executive power to pardon Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But just who is Joe Arpaio? A few points outlining the history of the sheriff are briefly discussed below.

At the time of his Rolling Stone interview, Arpaio was 80 years old. First elected in 1992, he took up the issue of illegal immigration in 2006, and quickly decided this was a pony he could ride across the finish line. Arpaio has faced allegations of rampant racial profiling in Arizona. In June 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down key provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law which allowed law enforcement officers, including him and his deputies, to demand citizenship papers from any suspected illegal immigrants they came across. He became so obsessed with the issue of illegal immigration that he and his deputies failed to investigate more than 400 cases of sexual abuse including assaults on children.

Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump Mary Altaffer/AP

During the time of the Rolling Stone interview, Arpaio and his staff learned that he was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department for a litany of civil rights violations against him which included the unlawful and unconstitutional targeting and detention of people because of their race, color or national origin. The lawsuit argued that Arpaio’s office had created “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” that “reaches the highest levels of the agency.”

During his four terms as Maricopa County’s Sheriff he created the notorious tent city which was utilized to house illegal aliens, mostly Mexican citizens. The tents were outside and in the summer temperatures could reach as high as 145°.

Arpaio was also known to feed prisoners only 2 meals a day which were valued at $.30 each, he banned cigarettes and coffee and reestablished chain gangs, parading prisoners through the streets where they can be jeered at.

According to the federal lawsuits, guards would refer to Latino inmates as “wet backs,” “Mexican bitches,” “stupid Mexicans” and “fucking Mexicans.” According to the Rolling Stone article:

Female prisoners, the suit claims, were forced to sleep in their own menstrual blood; officers refused to respond to the inmates pleas because they were made in Spanish. Meanwhile, Arpaio’s jailers allegedly circulated email images of a Chihuahua in a bathing suit, calling it “a rare photo of a Mexican Navy seal.”

Instead of going after businesses who hired illegal immigrants, Arpaio chose to go after the undocumented workers they hired and would notify the media every time he would round up fruit pickers or factory workers.

According to Rolling Stone,

“Illegal immigrants make up less than 10% of those arrested,” says Charles Katz, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University who conducts annual studies on crime in Maricopa County. They are involved in less criminal activity than nativeborn Americans.” Illegal immigrants, the study show, are twice as likely to be employed than US citizens and half as likely to use illegal drugs–yet thanks to Arpaio’s tactics, they’re far more likely to be arrested for drug offenses.

Arpaio set up roadblocks to detain any drivers who looked like they might be in the United States illegally. One study showed that Latino drivers were 9 times more likely to be pulled over the same infraction as other drivers.

Rolling Stone further reported that

In the past decade, hundreds of lawsuits, ranging from wrongful deaths in Arpaio’s jails to unlawful arrests, have been brought against the Sheriff’s office. Far from saving money with Arpaio’s on-the-cheap tent city, Maricopa County has been forced to shell out more than $50 million to defend itself against lawsuits brought by the Sheriff’s victims–including nearly $1 million awarded to one of the county supervisors who was illegally targeted by Arpaio’s anti-corruption unit.

In 2009 the local East Valley Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting which detailed Arpaio’s practice of racial profiling. The entirety of that report be read here.

Arpaio was also a leader in the birtherism movement and was a strong supporter of Pres. Trump who ultimately pardoned him after he was convicted of contempt of a federal order to stop his racial profiling practices.

Finally, “America’s Toughest Sheriff”  lost re-election to Democrat Paul Penzone, who succeeded him as sheriff on January 1, 2017. Now 85, “retired” and the proud owner of a brand new Presidential Pardon, one wonders what the future holds for one of the United States’ best known, and proudest bigots. Perhaps he’ll be appointed to Trump’s cabinet, as National Security Adviser, or as head of Homeland Security or ICE.

In case you were wondering . . .