How former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio became the most hated lawman in America – Business Insider
President Donald Trump set off a political firestorm Friday
evening when he announced he had pardoned
Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Maricopa County, Ariz.
Sheriff who was convicted last month of violating a court order
to stop racially profiling Latinos.
Arpaio had been an early and vocal supporter of Trump during his
presidential campaign, and Trump had previously hinted that a
pardon was likely. Yet that anticipation did little to alleviate
the outrage that came
mainly from liberals, but also some prominent conservatives.
The pardon, which Trump granted before Arpaio had even been
sentenced, was an unusual move that bypassed the typical Justice
Department process — pardons are usually requested via formal
applications submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at
least five years after the applicant is sentenced.
Trump had originally asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the
federal criminal case against Arpaio could be dropped entirely,
but was told that would be inappropriate,
according to The Washington Post.
Arpaio, an 85-year-old who called himself America’s
sheriff,” is known for
illegally detaining Latinos in Maricopa, Ariz., where he
reigned for roughly two dozen years, and he has been sued by
citizens and the
Justice Department for doing so.
He was notoriously tough — and arguably brutal — towards inmates,
too. Sheriff Joe made headlines for calling his “Tent City” jail
camp,” and for making the inmates there wear pink underwear, eat
only two meals a day, and endure unbearably
hot temperatures in the summer.
Three inmates died after being forced into “restraint chairs”
Arpaio kept in his jails.
Arpaio has undoubtedly made national news more than any other
sheriff in the nation. He’s also undoubtedly the most reviled lawman, too.
How did one man come to have so much power and engender so much
The toughest jails ever
Arpaio ran for sheriff after in the early ’90s,
after a 25-year stint with the Drug Enforcement
Administration. Arpaio, the son of immigrants from Naples,
“pummeled his opponents with gusto,” according to a
2009 profile in The New Yorker.
The main part of his work was operating the county jails, a task
he knew had the potential for “political gold,” according to The
New Yorker. He set to work right away building his Tent City to
solve an overcrowding problem. He saved money by ditching salt
and pepper at the jails, cutting back to two meals a day, and
depriving inmates of their morning coffee.
Sheriff Joe’s Tent City — a place where inmates live in Army
surplus tents and work in chain gangs — almost immediately
captured the attention of the Justice Department. The feds began
investigating Tent City in 1995. Two years later, the Justice
Department issued a report confirming that Sheriff Joe’s infamous
Tent City used excessive force and gratuitously used
pepper spray and restraint chairs.
Here’s how one former inmate named Francisco Chairez, who spent a
year in Arpaio’s tent city, described it in
The Washington Post:
“During the sweltering summer, the temperature could reach 115
or 120 degrees. I was in the tents when we hit 120. It was
impossible to stay cool in the oppressive heat. Everyone would
strip down to their underwear. There was no cold water, only
water from vending machines; and eventually, the machines would
run out. People would faint; some had heatstroke. That summer,
ambulances came about three times. One man died in his bed.
But the winter was even worse. During the winter, there were no
heaters. Most jackets and heavily insulated pants weren’t
allowed; they don’t want you to be comfortable.”
The Justice Department gave Arpaio a barely perceptible tap on
the wrist. He agreed to a settlement in which he limited use of
pepper spray and improved inmates’ grievance procedures.
Then-US Attorney Janet
Napolitano led the Justice Department investigation and later
Arpaio’s endorsement when she ran for governor. Napolitano
took a largely hands-off policy toward Arpaio after she won her
But Arpaio began to make other enemies, including legal ones. The
jail system run by Arpaio was hit with a staggering number
of lawsuits by inmates and their families. From 2004 through
November 2007, Sheriff Joe and his jails were targeted by 2,150
lawsuits, some of which
alleged brutality against inmates, the
Phoenix New Times reported.
To put this in perspective, the Phoenix New Times noted that the
jail systems in New York, Houston, and Chicago combined were hit
with 43 lawsuits that same period.
An obsession with immigration that began in 2005
In 2005, Arpaio
became “obsessed” with immigration after the state of Arizona
passed a law meant to crack down on the smuggling of immigrants,
Mother Jones reported. This obsession earned him ire of immigrant
advocates in the aughts. In 2008, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon
for his immigration “sweeps” that involved checking random
cars for illegal immigrants. Mother Jones’ Aura Bogado
reported from the trenches of his war on illegal immigration:
Native Americans told me they were targeted because deputies
mistook them for Latinos. Latinos told me of being stopped
randomly on the street and shouted at—or worse—by officers
demanding identification. Alex, a third-generation US citizen,
was at a Circle K buying water while his parents waited outside.
He ran out when he heard a group of Arpaio’s deputies yelling at
them to produce their papers.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that Arpaio was also a supporter of
Arizona’s controversial “paper’s please” law of 2010 that
requires law enforcement to check people’s ID if they have a
suspicion” somebody was in the country illegally.
The people of Maricopa County for more than two decades
seemed to like him — at least enough people to keep getting him
elected. After his 2012 re-election the LA Times noted how
impervious his career was to scandal, writing that his
career was “
coated in Teflon
Yet by 2016, voters appeared to have tired of Arpaio’s constant
controversies and endless cycles of litigation. He
lost his re-election bid last November to Democratic opponent
Paul Penzone, who won the vote with 55% to Arpaio’s 45%.