Sheriff Joe Arpaio in More Legal Trouble
A two-year federal criminal investigation of infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for abuses of power and financial misconduct was dropped earlier this month, but the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America has plenty more legal trouble looming.
Arpaio is celebrated and vilified through the country for his tough-on-immigration policies in Maricopa County, Ariz., endorsing racial profiling in policy if not in name to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants and turn them over to federal authorities for deportation.
However the sheriff is also known locally for allegedly using the powers of his office to arrest, embarrass, harass and punish whistle-blowers and political opponents. Protestors descended on the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix last week to decry the end of the federal investigation, which officials said was dropped for lack of evidence.
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However, while he won’t be facing criminal charges in the immediate future, the sheriff still has two civil cases against him pending. One was filed by five Latino residents for racial profiling and is awaiting a verdict. Another suit was brought by the Department of Justice for racial profiling, violation of Latino inmates’ civil rights and retaliation.
Retaliation and Smear Campaigns
The dropped charges against Arpaio are a disappointment to activists and attorneys who have fought against his iron rule. “The whole idea of having a law enforcement officer who uses his office to strike out against First Amendment rights is repugnant to the rule of law,” says Joel Robbins, a civil rights attorney in Phoenix who has brought numerous lawsuits against Arpaio.
“I represented enough of his victims that you see it repeating itself over and over again,” Robbins says. “I was a little disappointed with [the Department of Justice] for dismissing those cases.”
A comprehensive list of the lawsuits and allegations against the Sheriff over the years could fill a book. Among the most egregious:
- Firing civil service employees without cause for suspected leaks to the press.
- Arresting people who clapped after a speech denouncing his policies. “Isn’t this a democracy?” scoffs the attorney. “Isn’t clapping an effective and efficient way to say you agree with something?”
- Arresting Nick Tarr, who was collecting petitions against Arpaio’s policies, for impersonating a highway patrol officer. Tarr was wearing an “I Heart Arizona” t-shirt, pink boxer shorts and an old public safety shirt, on Halloween.
- Convincing the news media to report a false rape claim against political opponent Dan Saben made by Saban’s adoptive mother, who had a history of false statements. “Every sheriff’s candidate who ran against him had smear campaigns against them,” Robbins says.
What Sex Crimes?
Despite the impressive body of work that Arpaio has compiled, there won’t be any federal criminal charges. However, the racial profiling that has made him famous could come back to haunt him in the pending lawsuits. The state’s quest to stop and detain anyone with brown skin, with Arpaio at the vanguard of the fight, hit another roadblock in June when the Supreme Court tossed most of a state law that cracked down on immigrants.
In the meantime, while the office was allegedly focusing its resources on Mexicans and political opponents, over 400 sex crimes were left to languish without prosecution, warranting only token investigation even when they involved molested children.
If federal authorities don’t have enough evidence to charge Arpaio, voters do have an opportunity to weigh in on his record in November, when the 80-year-old incumbent is up for reelection against former police officer Mike Stauffer.
In the meantime, Arizona residents who think they have been profiled, abused or otherwise retaliated against by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have the opportunity to hire an attorney and add to the dozens of lawsuits that Arpaio has faced during his five terms in power.
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“You’re entitled to due process,” says Robbins. “There are constitutional protections that protect citizens against abuse of power by government officials.”
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