President Trump asked the crowd last week at his Phoenix rally, "Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" Had the hall been filled with an accurate cross section of Arpaio’s former constituents, the answer would have been a resounding “no.”
Nevertheless, Trump pardoned the ex-sheriff on Friday, though he had not been sentenced and had shown zero remorse for his crime.
America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” was convicted of criminal contempt of court last month after refusing to obey court orders. This most recent legal battle involved numerous federal attempts to get Arpaio to stop racially profiling residents of Maricopa County.
Not only did Arpaio refuse, he bragged about it: “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”
Many conservatives outside of Arizona celebrated his headline-grabbing antics, but they don’t know the real story. I’m a conservative Maricopa County resident who has lived under Arpaio throughout his decades-long reign. Arpaio was never a conservative; he just played one on TV.
I saw his love of racial profiling firsthand, especially on my daily commutes through the tiny Hispanic community of Guadalupe, Ariz. When conducting these “sweeps,” helicopters buzzed houses, an 18-wheeler marked “Mobile Command Center” was planted in the center of town, and countless sheriff’s deputies stood on the roadsides, peering into the cars rolling by. Being Caucasian, I was always waved through. The drivers ahead and behind me weren’t so lucky.
Washington’s laxity in border enforcement led many right-of-center Americans to appreciate more robust enforcement, even when it regularly included authoritarian scenes such as the one in Guadalupe. But even if you turn a blind eye to the human cost of such race-based enforcement, Arpaio’s other misdeeds are legion.
During one three-year period, his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t properly investigate more than 400 alleged sex crimes, many of them involving child molestation.
In all, the department improperly cleared as many as 75% of cases without arrest or investigation, a fact outlined in a scathing report by the conservative Goldwater Institute.
When local journalists delved into Arpaio’s dealings, he had them arrested, a move that ultimately cost taxpayers $3.75 million. We paid $3.5 million more after the sheriff wrongfully arrested a county supervisor who had been critical of him.
About the same time, Arpaio sought charges against another supervisor, a county board member, the school superintendent, four Superior Court Judges and several county employees. All of these were cleared by the courts and also resulted in hefty taxpayer-funded settlements for his targets.
As a U.S. District Court judge presided over a civil contempt hearing, Arpaio’s attorney hired a private detective to investigate the judge's wife.
On the pretext of going after an alleged cache of illegal weapons, a Maricopa SWAT team burned down an upscale suburban Phoenix home and killed the occupants’ 10-month-old dog. There were no illegal arms, so they arrested the resident on traffic citations.
Arpaio’s staff concocted an imaginary assassination attempt on the sheriff, presumably for news coverage. Taxpayers had to pay the framed defendant $1.1 million after he was found not guilty.
The sheriff's department misspent $100 million on the sheriff’s pet projects, and wasted up to $200 million in taxpayer money on lawsuits. Yet he still found money to send a deputy to Hawaii to look for President Obama’s birth certificate.
All these antics, and many more, finally persuaded Maricopa County voters to oust the sheriff by a whopping 10-point margin. They selected his Democratic opponent, despite choosing Trump by 3 points in the same election.
Convicting Arpaio of contempt of court is similar to busting Al Capone on tax evasion. It was merely the tip of the iceberg considering his numerous violations of the public trust.
The sheriff bragged in a TV interview that he would “never give in to control by the federal government.” Unsurprisingly, Arpaio ran to the federal government for help when he found himself in legal trouble. And he got it, from a president who is just as committed to truth, justice, the rule of law, conservative principles and his oath of office. That is, not very committed at all.