“America’s Toughest Sheriff” has been found guilty of criminal contempt for his continued efforts in his war on immigration. Former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio served for more than twenty years – and has been both applauded and berated for his tenacious attempts to eradicate illegal immigration in his state. He faced a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow in 2011 to stop him and a ruling in 2013 confirming it. Despite this, Arpaio continued his campaign.
Just this week, Arpaio was found guilty of contempt and given a six-month sentence despite his claims that the judge’s initial decision was too vague. The ruling stated that he knew of the order and its meaning – he was not to detain or turn over immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for civil immigration violations. “Despite this knowledge,” the ruling read, “[the] Defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’”
At the trial, prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section claimed Arpaio’s department “illegally detained 171 individuals” after the 2011 injunction. The former sheriff’s tactics included patrolling Hispanic neighborhoods and stopping people for minor infractions such as not signaling before a turn. Deputies asked for proof of citizenship or naturalization, and any who could not provide it were arrested and detained for ICE.
Arpaio’s pride, arrogance, and ego helped deliver the guilty verdict. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton presided over the contempt charge and used many of his quotes throughout the trial. In one clip, Arpaio talks with an inmate who tells the sheriff that federal law supersedes his authority. “No,” Arpaio said. “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”
Illegal immigration is a major concern in Arizona, and many applauded the former sheriff’s attempts to crack down on it.
“He says it like it is to the average people,” said Bruce Merrill, a pollster and former professor at Arizona State University. “Older folks see crime on TV, they see immigration. A guy like Joe symbolically saves them. It’s kind of like he’s a superhero.”
Others, such as Republican Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, are not so thrilled with Arpaio’s tactics. “It’s Amazing to me that so-called conservatives will look the other way when someone has abused the power of government in the most extreme fashion.”
Arpaio was first sworn in as sheriff in 1993. In the years since taxpayers footed about $142 million in legal expenses. He was adamant about doing things that were not exactly part of his duties, such as researching the birth country of former president Obama, investigating judges, and even reporters who had written less than glowing articles about him. Still, the county re-elected the man for twenty-two years. Apparently, the citizens appreciated his efforts.
Although Arpaio was sentenced to six months, experts doubt he’ll spend that much time behind bars. Former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, Paul Charlton, explains the difficulty in determining how long the former lawman will serve:
“On the one hand, you have a significant number of lives altered and destroyed because of Joe Arpaio’s misconduct,” Charlton said. “On the other hand, you have an aging octogenarian who has otherwise lived a life without any criminal conviction, and served his whole career in law enforcement. That makes it very difficult for a judge.”
While some of Arpaio’s actions as the sheriff may be beyond the scope of his authority, immigration is a significant problem for Arizona and the country as well. Still, many believe his hard hitting actions were exactly what was needed – and still is. And these same folks claim we need tougher immigration laws in this country, and perhaps a few more sheriffs like Arpaio backing the movement. What’s your opinion?