Last last week, the Department of Justice announced it closed a criminal investigation against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio without deciding to bring criminal charges. Although Arpaio is best known for his harsh anti-immigrant practices and for widespread allegations of anti-Latino racism, the closed investigation dealt with relatively minor allegations. One subject of the investigation was whether Arpaio’s office misused county credit cards. Another was whether Arpaio spent public funds earmarked for one purpose on different, unrelated projects. The most serious allegation at issue in the now-dropped investigation involved a politically-motivated prosecution against two officials and a judge who were at odds with Arpaio.
Unsurprisingly, Arpaio celebrated DOJ’s announcement with a gloating press conference, declaring that federal officials “cleared my office of any abuse of power or wrongdoing that has been going on for years, and publicized almost every week for three years by the news media and critics.” His celebration is premature. Here’s why Arpaio should not break out the champagne yet:
- DOJ’s Civil Rights Case Against Arpaio Remains Live: Many of the most serious allegations against Arpaio are encompassed by the Justice Department’s civil rights lawsuit against the anti-immigrant sheriff. DOJ’s complaint details systemic lawlessness and abuse of Latinos by Arpaio and his officers, including forcing women prisoners to sleep in their own menstrual blood, an alleged assault against a pregnant woman, and widespread racial profiling and use of racial slurs.
- The Criminal Investigation Against Arpaio Began Under Bush: When he is not touting discredited claims that President Obama’s birth certificate is fake, Arpaio likes to dismiss the Obama Administration’s charges against him as “a political witch hunt.” Unfortunately for Arpaio, DOJ’s criminal investigation against him began under George W. Bush.
- Arpaio’s Allies Have Not Escaped Accountability: Although DOJ decided not to bring federal criminal charges against Arpaio or his allies for politically motivated prosecutions, Arizona courts have not been so kind. Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, a top Arpaio ally, was disbarred for targeting the same political enemies at issue in the DOJ probe.