Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio today. That’s an affirmation of Trump’s admiration for Arpaio’s long career of self-promotion, abuse of power, racism, and cruelty. The New Yorker concluded that Trump probably pardoned Arpaio because the former sheriff ” represents in miniature what the President would like to be more maximally—a successful American authoritarian.”
Trump said Arpaio had “more than fifty years of admirable service to our nation.” That “admirable service” was characterized by outright racism and unconscionable abuse of inmates under his control. A 2009 New Yorker profile found:
“Thousands of lawsuits and legal claims alleging abuse have been filed against Arpaio’s department by inmates—or, in the case of deaths in detention, by their families. A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.” The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars as the result of a suit filed in federal court. The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million in a pre-trial settlement. (This deal was reached after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after the sheriff’s office was accused of discarding evidence, including the crushed larynx of the deceased.) ” (The New Yorker, 7/20/09)
Trump said Arpaio protected the public from the scourge of crime. He didn’t. Arpaio protected himself first and foremost. He arrested journalists for investigating him and arrested citizens at a board of supervisors meeting for clapping. He “had a private investigator follow the wife of a judge who had ruled against him.” (The New Yorker, 8/25/17) These people fought back, and had enough power and enough legal help to win. Ordinary people fared far worse when Arpaio went after them.
His profiling of anyone who looked Mexican was what finally got him convicted of a criminal misdemeanor. The conviction was not just because of the racial profiling and violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, but because a court ordered him to stop and he refused. That’s contempt of court, and courts also have power to fight back.
Arpaio’s abuses were not limited to profiling and arresting people who looked Mexican. He also abused prisoners in the county’s jails. As in most counties, Maricopa County jails fall under the sheriff’s jurisdiction. Most prisoners in jails are awaiting trial, not yet convicted of anything but too poor to make bail.
Arpaio cut the amount of food for prisoners and cut their meals to two a day. He restricted access to reading material. He packed them in tent city jails under the broiling Arizona sun, and paraded them through the streets in chains. He put put prisoners awaiting trial on chain gangs.
“The sheriff called detainees “criminals” when they had not been convicted and once referred to his jail as ‘a concentration camp.’” (The New Yorker, 8/25/17)
While he was busy chasing immigrants and setting up tent city jails and dressing inmates in pink underwear, he didn’t have time to investigate real crimes.
“Arpaio’s department, preoccupied with going after illegal immigration, had failed to properly investigate some four hundred sex crimes over a three-year period in the mid-two-thousands.” (The New Yorker, 8/25/17)
Trump praised Arpaio for “selfless public service.” Arpaio is definitely not selfless. He set up the “Cold Case Posse,” which raised money and never accounted for it. According to the Arizona Republic, “Arpaio, in the documentary, tells his campaign manager that he’ll get ‘more money than you know what to do with.'” That’s the posse he sent to try to prove President Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate was a fake – the birther project that first brought him together with Donald Trump.
Arpaio was convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt for blatantly flouting a court order and instructing his deputies to do likewise. He did not serve the law: he used the power of his office to attack and intimidate. That’s the man Trump pardoned.
Why Donald Trump Pardoned Joe Arpaio (The New Yorker, 8/25/17)
President Trump Pardons Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio (NPR, 8/25/17) (includes full text of White House statement)
Trump pardons former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating Latinos’ rights (Los Angeles Times, 8/26//17)
As Sheriff Joe Arpaio Heads for exit, posse and ‘birther’ probe funding remains a mystery (Arizona Republic, 11/12/16)
Sheriff Joe Arpaio tasks ‘Cold Case Posse’ to investigate Obama’s birth certificate (Washington Post, 8/20/11)
Sheriff Joe (The New Yorker, 7/20/09)