As the Department of Justice’s investigation and lawsuit have shown, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s discriminatory practices and abuses of power have made him a Bull Connor for the 21st century. Below are some of the highlights–or rather, lowlights–of Arpaio’s career: terrorizing immigrants and detainees such as the mother he forced to give birth in shackles; abusing power and embracing corruption, including misusing $100 million in taxpayer money to fund his own pet projects; and ignoring serious crime in his county, including letting over 400 sex crimes cases go uninvestigated.
April 2008: Over 40,000 Un-Served Felony Warrants
In an interview with Arpaio, an Arizona Republic reporter pointed out that the county had over 40,000 unserved felony warrants, and quoted Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon saying that Arpaio had created “a sanctuary county” for felons.
June 2008: 2,700 Lawsuits Filed Against Arpaio
Between 2004 and 2007, 2,700 lawsuits were filed against Sheriff Joe Arpaio in federal and county courts – 50 times the number of suits filed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston combined. It is estimated that Arpaio’s lawsuits have cost Maricopa County some $50 million over the years, earning him the nickname “America’s most expensive sheriff.”
In 2004 a man was released from prison after being wrongly accused of plotting to kill Arpaio. Evidence suggested that Arpaio’s office staged the plot and the County agreed to pay over $1 million to settle the case. The County’s insurance policy paid an additional un-released amount.
A federal judge ruled in October 2008 that Sheriff Arpaio and county health officials “violated the Constitution by depriving jail inmates of adequate medical screening and care, feeding them unhealthy food and housing them in unsanitary conditions.”
November 2009: Arpaio Forces Mother to Give Birth while Handcuffed to Bed
In a story reported by Telemundo in 2009, Sheriff Arpaio forced Alma Minerva Chacon to give birth while she was in shackles. Following the birth, Chacon was told that unless someone came to pick up the newborn in 72 hours, her child would be turned over to state custody.
After Arpaio and a political ally attempted to indict local officials they saw as enemies, the FBI launched an investigation into whether Arpaio was abusing his position to target his opponents. As local TV station KPHO reported: “The merit of the charges” Arpaio filed against opponents “are lost on a public who is becoming increasingly cynical of the persecution of political foes in Maricopa County even for a local folk hero like Arpaio.”
From 2002 to 2009, the rate of violent crime across the state of Arizona fell by 12%, and cities within Maricopa County saw significant decreases as well. Areas policed by Arpaio’s sheriff’s office, however, increased by 58% during this time. Meanwhile, 911 response times in Maricopa County increased significantly.
An investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) discovered that Arpaio inappropriately spent $99.5 million from two jail funds over the last eight years to pay for other law enforcement operations—including immigration patrols. When the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met to discuss the investigation, Arpaio didn’t attend–he was busy leading an immigration raid on a dry cleaners in Mesa.
ABC 12 News in Arizona reported that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crime cases over a two-year period, many of which involved children from 2 to 16 years old. Many of these victims were the children of undocumented immigrants. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Arpaio was so uninterested in investigating cases when immigrants were the victims instead of the perpetrators: as Arpaio once told Larry King, his deputies arrest “very few” non-Hispanics.
As World Net Daily reported: “Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told WND [World Net Daily] he has assigned a five-member ‘Cold Case Posse’ to investigate the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate.” In May of 2012, the citizens’ commission reported its conclusion, insisting that Obama’s birth certificate is a suspected forgery which cannot in good faith be described as authentic.
A Gulf War veteran was left brain-dead after being arrested, restrained, and tasered by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. According to his family, Ernest M. Atencio, 44, was a “sweet and loving boy” who suffered from a mental illness and became aggressive when being booked into a jail in Phoenix. Guards then tasered him until he suffered a heart attack.
After a three-year investigation into the MCSO’s police practices, the Department of Justice announced its findings: that Arpaio has “engage[d] in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing” and promoted “a chronic culture of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations” that led to illegally detaining Hispanic residents and denying them critical services in jail. The Department of Homeland Security furthermore decided to revoke its remaining 287(g) agreement with the sheriff’s office and restrict other mechanisms of coordination.
Sheriff Arpaio’s partner-in-crime, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, was stripped of his law license (the toughest sanction possible for ethical violations) for misusing his powers of office to target officials who disagreed with the duo. Beginning in 2008, Thomas and Arpaio announced criminal investigations against at least 14 officials, including all five members of the county Board of Supervisors, four judges, the county’s top two appointed officials, a high-ranking attorney for the county and two private lawyers. Ethics investigators later said that Thomas knew those charges were bogus but filed them anyway to ruin the reputations of the accused.
In a 2009 speech to a Texans for Immigration Reform meeting, Arpaio gloated that “after they went after me, we arrested 500 more [people] just for spite.” But when the Associated Press asked for clarification about these comments, Arpaio doubled down: “It was wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t 500. It was thousands.”
Less than six months after the DOJ announced the results of its investigation against Sheriff Arpaio and the MCSO, settlement negotiations broke down and the DOJ was forced to sue the Sheriff. “We believe that you are wasting time and not negotiating in good faith,” wrote Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin Jr. in a letter to Arpaio’s attorney. “Your tactics have required DOJ to squander valuable time and resources.”
On the stand and during the racial profiling trial against him, Arpaio attempted to dodge all charges of responsibility or wrongdoing, saying things like, “I don’t get involved in…operations. I’m not there on the streets patrolling and making arrests.” He also blamed his co-author for a book in which Arpaio described Mexican-Americans are not part of the American “mainstream,” claimed that a comment in which he said immigrants were “dirty” deferred to them being dusty, and insisted that the MCSO does not arrest people “because of the color of his skin” – even though he has admitted in the past that he arrests “very few” non-Hispanics. Arpaio also complained that he was suffering from the flu while on the stand – the same ailment he has come down with in previous occasions where he had to give testimony.
In May 2013, the results of the DOJ civil rights trial against Sheriff Arpaio were announced, when US District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s anti-immigrant practices amounted to the racial profiling of Latinos and ordered the MSCO to cease using race as a factor in their law enforcement decisions. “The great weight of the evidence is that all types of saturation patrols at issue in this case incorporated race as a consideration into their operations,” Judge Snow wrote.
Clearly believing that he knows better than any law, however, Sheriff Arpaio has refused to take the federal court ruling against him lying down. After Arpaio refused to address his department’s discriminatory habits, Judge Snow ordered the MCSO to submit to a court-appointed monitor for no less than three years – in addition to hiring a deputy to serve as community liaison officer, creating an advisory board to ensure dialogue between MCSO and community leaders, hold community-outreach meetings, and other points about the supervisory oversight of deputies.
Judge Snow hauled Sheriff Arpaio and his chief depty, Jerry Sheridan, back to court after a video surfaced in which Sheridan called Snow’s orders “ludicrous,” “crap,” and “absurd.” In the video, Sheriff Arpaio continued to insist that he knows the law best, saying, “We don’t racially profile, I don’t care what everybody says.” At the hearing, Judge Snow took Arpaio to task for neither complying with the spirit nor the letter of the law, and wrote of his concerns that the MCSO may have chosen to present “a paper appearance of compliance” while fostering “an attitude of contempt and subversion” toward the corrective actions prescribed.