The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it is filing a lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, following a months-long delay during which “America’s Most Corrupt Sheriff” refused to reform his enforcement practices or agree to the independent oversight of a monitor.
The development is the latest in a series of events that began in June 2008, when the DOJ launched an investigation into Sheriff Arpaio’s practices of “unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law.” When the investigation ended in late 2011, the damning verdict found that Arpaio had “engage[d] in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing” and “a chronic culture of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations.”
Among other things, this pattern of behavior includes:
- Heading a cold case posse to investigate President Obama’s birth certificate, nearly a year after it was released
- Leaving an Army veteran of Latino descent brain dead after “use of extensive force” to arrest, restrain, and taser him
- Leaving 40,000 felony warrants left unserved, effectively creating a “sanctuary county” for felons
- Spending $50 million in taxpayer money to defend himself in over 2,700 lawsuits
- Stalking state officials like Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard after Goddard spoke with a reporter about an FBI investigation of Arpaio, and trying to intimidate local officials Arpaio saw as enemies
- Forcing an immigrant woman to give birth while handcuffed to a bed
- Allowing violent crime to spike 58% in Maricopa County over a period of time when the rest of Arizona saw an average decrease in violent crime of 12%
- Misappropriating $100 million in taxpayer funds in order to funnel them into his budget for immigration enforcement and raids
- Neglecting to investigate over 400 sex-crimes cases, many of which involved children from 2 to 16 years old
Following the conclusion of the investigation, DOJ attempted to reach an investigation with the Sheriff’s office and tied to provide them with a draft settlement agreement. The department sought to train Arpaio’s officers to make constitutional traffic stops and reach out to Latinos so as to assure them that the police were there to protect them. However, the Sheriff refused to agree to key reforms, and refused to any independent oversight by a monitor, claiming that such an observer would “nullify his authority.”
Last month, an Arpaio sidekick, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, was disbarred for ethical violations committed while working in tandem with the Sheriff’s office. With today’s lawsuit, the DOJ is announcing that they intend to put a stop to Arpaio’s grossly overreaching enforcement tactics.
Unfortunately, Arpaio is the type of lawman who thinks he’s so above the law that no investigation, lawsuit, or castigation has cowed him yet. A 2009 speech that Arpaio gave at a Texans for Immigration Reform meeting caught him bragging about dodging federal inquiries and kicking civil rights investigators out of his office. “After they went after me,” he gloated, “we arrested 500 more just for spite.”
When the Associated Press asked for clarification on these comments last month, Arpaio doubled down: “It was wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t 500. It was thousands.”