Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted two weeks ago of criminal contempt for failing to heed a judge’s orders, has been branded by his supporters as “America’s toughest sheriff.”
The 85-year-old Arizona law enforcement officer is the subject of speculation over whether President Donald Trump will pardon him next week when he holds a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on Wednesday released a statement saying if Trump uses the event to announce a pardon for Arpaio, “then it will be clear that his [Trump’s] true intent is to inflame emotions and further divide our nation.”
As sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, Arpaio was a vocal advocate for crackdowns on illegal immigration.
Arpaio was found guilty of contempt because he refused to comply with a 2011 order by a U.S. district judge to stop traffic patrols that were aimed at identifying illegal immigrants.
Arpaio faces up to six months in jail when he is sentenced October 5, although experts say his age and lack of prior convictions will likely result in no jail time.
Trump on Sunday told Fox News that he is “seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio.” The president said Arpaio “is a great American patriot” and praised his work in the fight against illegal immigration.
“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” Trump asked during the interview.
Arpaio has enjoyed a significant amount of publicity with his unorthodox disciplinary methods, such as placing inmates in desert tent camps housing more than 1,000 people, in a state where summer temperatures often climb past 100 degrees (37 degrees Celsius).
Amnesty International spoke out against the so-called “Tent City Jail” in 1997, saying it was not an “adequate or human alternative to housing inmates in suitable jail facilities.”
The tent city continued to exist, however, until current Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced in April 2017 that it would be shut down. Penzone said the tent city was neither a deterrent to crime nor cost-effective.
“Sheriff Joe” also made famous the practice of outfitting prisoners in pink underwear to cut down on theft. Later he sold customized pink boxers to the general public as a charity fundraiser.
Arpaio was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU accusing him of mistreating pre-trial detainees by feeding them rotten food, refusing them health care, and packing them tightly into overheated cells. A federal judge ruled in 2008 and again in 2010 that conditions in Arpaio’s jails were unconstitutional.
Accused in the lawsuit of creating a “culture of cruelty” at Maricopa County facilities, Sheriff Arpaio has responded that his jails are meant as places for punishment.
He was investigated for abuse of power in 2008, in connection with an FBI investigation, but the inquiry was closed four years later by the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office with no charges filed.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of a three-year investigation into complaints of racial profiling in Maricopa County. It found that under Sheriff Arpaio, the sheriff’s office had “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” reaching “the highest levels of the agency.”
Arpaio appealed, but lost. On May 24, 2013, Arpaio and his office were found to be in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Maricopa County Sheriff is an elected position; Arpaio served six terms between 1992 and 2016, but lost last year’s election to Paul Penzone.