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Is Sheriff Joe Arpaio On His Way Out? Sure Looks That Way

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Facing Contempt Charges, Arpaio’s Latest Legal Battle Might Just Do Him In 

The controversial reign of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona may be nearing an end. In 2011, Arpaio was ordered to halt his department’s immigration sweeps by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow because the raids were based on racial profiling. Now it’s clear that Arpaio openly defied the order and is facing civil contempt charges before the same judge. The civil contempt case against him that is currently being heard had an especially dramatic moment late last week when Arpaio confirmed allegationsthat he had his lawyer hire a private detective to investigate the wife of the judge presiding over the case.

It seems increasingly probable that Arpaio is about to be held accountable for years of abusing his policing and political power. For an idea of the case building against Arpaio, see the Arizona Republic’s recap of last week’s pivotal moments, here.

Below is a roundup of recent opinion pieces that capture the dramatic developments unfolding in Phoenix:

  • Arizona Republic, Contempt hearing unmasks Joe Arpaio, by Laurie Roberts: “It seemed fitting somehow that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s unmasking this week came on the anniversary of Senate Bill 1070. On the day that marks a largely irrelevant law that was mostly struck down as unconstitutional, Arpaio took his own giant step toward irrelevance on Thursday. America’s scariest sheriff admitted that he’d hired an investigator to investigate the Department of Justice, which at the time was investigating him and his top deputies for abuse of power. And he admitted that his attorney hired an investigator to investigate the wife of the federal judge who nailed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for engaging in widespread racial profiling of Latino drivers. The judge who is now considering whether to refer Arpaio to prosecutors for criminal contempt charges. Generally speaking, it’s not nice to try to intimidate federal authorities. But then again, intimidation has been the name of Arpaio’s sleazy game for years…. The court order slipped through the cracks? For 18 months? Arpaio is either lying or he’s admitting that at 82, he’s no longer able to do the job.  Either way, he should resign. Arpaio’s day is done. His America’s-toughest-sheriff, I’m-the-only-one-enforcing-immigration-laws schtick long ago went sour and the people of Arizona – the ones outside the Joe Choir – now have seen at exactly who and what Arpaio is.
  • Phoenix New Times, Arpaio Cops to Investigating Federal Judge, Judge’s Wife, Confirming New Times Story, by Stephen Lemons:“In my line of work, it doesn’t get much better than a federal judge’s handing your column to a public official, and getting the accused pol to confirm the column’s facts, one by one, under oath. This is what happened on day three of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s civil contempt trial, when, at the conclusion of Arpaio’s testimony, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow told Arpaio he wanted to ask him a few questions, based on one of my columns from last year. The result? Admissions by Arpaio that he had been using a confidential informant in Seattle, Dennis Montgomery, and paying him from RICO and confidential-informant funds to do an investigation of a vaguely defined conspiracy theory involving the U.S. Department of Justice and various judges, including Snow himself. Arpaio also copped to having his “counsel” investigate Judge Snow’s wife, hiring a private detective to look into a statement that the judge’s spouse allegedly made at a restaurant, to the effect that Judge Snow wanted to “make sure” Arpaio’s not re-elected.
  • Arizona Republic, Will contempt case put Arpaio in the pink (underwear)?,By EJ Montini: “Sheriff Joe Arpaio invented pink underwear for inmates. Should he now be sporting a pair? Should Arpaio, at the very least, receive a pink slip from county voters?….The sheriff of Maricopa County is supposed to enforce the laws. He’s supposed to follow court orders. He doesn’t get to make the law or ignore court orders, even those with which he disagrees. That’s not how our legal system works. Arpaio’s popularity appears to have gone to his head. He came to believe his own press releases. Instead of acting like a sheriff in real life, he acts as if he only played one on TV. The hearing before Snow could change that. In court Tuesday Sgt. Brett Palmer, a supervisor with Arpaio’s former human-smuggling unit, testified that Arpaio personally instructed him to continue enforcing federal immigration law after Judge Snow had ordered them to stop.”
  • Arizona Republic: Arpaio’s lesson in cowardice, by Linda Valdez: “Pity poor Joe Arpaio. He could have been somebody. Now he’s just an example of where bad choices get you. In 2005, Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrested a vigilante who held immigrants at gun point, calling the actions dangerous and illegal. The anti-immigrant crowd booed. Arpaio – ever in search of popularity – made a sharp turn and became Mr. Immigration Sweep. Now he’s in court defending the indefensible. He had the right instincts in 2005. He also had the ear of the right wing. He might have helped Arizona avoid the anti-immigrant rage that built and built until SB 1070 revealed how hollow and mean-spirited it was. He could have made a real contribution to Arizona by being a voice of reason. But the self-proclaimed Toughest Sheriff lacked the guts to stand by what he believed in 2005.”
  • Arizona Republic Editorial: ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ brought low“‘I’ve been a top federal official for 22 years,’ Arpaio said. ‘I have a deep respect for the courts, federal courts and federal judges. I didn’t know all the facts of this court order, and it really hurts me that after 55 years … to be in this position. So I want to apologize to the judge that I should have known more. This court order slipped through the cracks.’ This is self-delusion. Arpaio has played the ‘detail ignoramous’ card many times before. But never as brazenly as this….Perhaps it is the result of decades of hearing and believing his own claptrap about being America’s Toughest Sheriff, or some such. But the pathos evident on the witness stand on Thursday tells us those days are done.”
  • Arizona Republic, Check under rocks for Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s ‘friends’, By EJ Montini: “For more than 20 years ambitious Republicans have been genuflecting before Arpaio, seeking his blessing. And he has been very accommodating. So where are they now?.… Where are the presidential hopefuls who courted Arpaio’s favor? George W. Bush. Mitt Romney. Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Where is Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who praised and thanked the sheriff for his endorsement? Where are the members of the Arizona congressional delegation, many of whom have used Arpaio’s endorsements and his presence at fundraising events to help finance their campaigns?….He’s on his own. Arpaio stood firm in support of the awful law SB 1070, helping to provide support and cover for Gov. Jan Brewer, and to help her get reelected. The same is true of many members of the state legislature. And lesser office holders. He’s had their backs. So where is everyone? The only Republican whose silence makes sense is Sen. John McCain, who has feuded with the sheriff for years.”

Additional resources on the case can be found here.