Last October I awarded the Idiot of the Week award to Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe, as he was ‘affectionately’ known, was a law unto himself. Blatant racial profiling, inhumane treatment of prisoners and contempt for federal court orders was what defined his tenure, and a long tenure it had been, having first been elected in 1993. But Sheriff Joe is getting a double dose of comeuppance, well-deserved and long overdue.
In November 2016, for the first time in 24 years, Sheriff Joe lost his bid for re-election to a democrat, former police sergeant Paul Penzone. Over the years, Arpaio has been accused of various types of misconduct, including abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper clearance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, and election law violations. A Federal court monitor was appointed to oversee his office’s operations because of complaints of racial profiling. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, and subsequently filed suit against him for unlawful discriminatory police conduct.
But the taxpayers of Maricopa got tired of picking up the the tab for his multitude of lawsuits, and in November they said, “bye-bye” to Sheriff Joe. In September, Maricopa County agreed to pay $4.5 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs in a case dating back to 2007. That payment was added to some $10.4 million that had already been paid in other cases. At (then) age 84, let’s face it, it was well past time for the not-so-good sheriff to retire anyway.
But Arpaio’s troubles don’t end there … not by a long shot!
Last Monday, 26 June, marked the beginning of Sheriff Arpaio’s trial in federal court where he stands accused of criminal contempt of court. In December 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ordered Arpaio’s office to halt detentions based on nothing more than suspicion that a person might be in violation of federal immigration law. Arpaio’s response? “I’m still gonna do what I’m doing. I’m still gonna arrest illegal aliens.”
The sheriff’s insolence — an open admission that he would persist in conduct the judge had ruled was discriminatory — translated into open defiance. For at least 18 months, his deputies continued to racially profile motorists for detention. Some 170 people were stopped in that period, most guilty of nothing more than looking Latino. Mr. Arpaio’s defiance didn’t sit well with the judge, who found the sheriff in civil contempt of court and referred the case to the Justice Department, which, having concluded that Mr. Arpaio’s policy was intentional, brought criminal contempt charges against him. But, that was the Justice Department under Attorney General Loretta Lynch. We now have a new Attorney General, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, who may be less diligent in his prosecution. If convicted, Arpaio could face up to six months in prison.
The trial wrapped up on Thursday, with closing arguments for both sides scheduled for 06 July. The first thought I had was I wondered how diligently this case would be prosecuted by the Department of Justice, now that it is led by none other than racist and anti-immigration Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Based on news reports, I may have been right to have concerns. The trial was apparently rather lackluster. Prosecutors successfully blocked a motion by the defense that would have prevented them from calling to the stand victims of illegal detention, but they failed to call on a single victim. Arpaio, though present in the courtroom all four days, did not testify on his own behalf.
One civil rights activist, Lydia Guzman, who has long followed the atrocities committed by Arpaio and his deputies noted that, “I love the DOJ, but I think that they probably could have sent some more experienced lawyers.” She also said she believed the DOJ “held off” on assigning its more seasoned attorneys to the case.
I won’t bore you with the details of the trial, but suffice it to say that the defense team appears to be fairly confident, and it appears the prosecution presented a fairly lackluster case. If I were a gambler, I would say that he will not see prison time, but … time will tell. I hope he does, for he is an arrogant and cruel man who has subjected many people to inhumane treatment for relatively minor crimes, sometimes even for no crime other than their ethnicity. But even if he goes free, Sheriff Joe’s wings have been clipped and his reign of terror is finally ended.