Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio isn’t just one of America’s most abusive sheriffs — a Justice Department investigation uncovered widespread lawlessness in his office, including assaults against pregnant women and incidents where female prisoners were forced to sleep in their own menstrual blood — he’s also an unusually military sheriff. Last November, he announced that he would arm every single one of his deputies with automatic weapons to prevent “illegal aliens” from escaping. Meanwhile, Arizona’s desserts are rife with armed civilian vigilantes seeking out border crossers and, occasionally, shooting them.
On Saturday night, this volatile combination nearly reached its inevitable result. Two of Arpaio’s deputies were tracking potential drug smugglers in the dessert about an hour from Phoenix, when they encountered three heavily armed men dressed in camouflage. According to court documents, one of the men raised his rifle at the deputies and started “yelling commands.” When one of the deputies identified themselves as law enforcement, the armed man screamed back “you aren’t taking my weapons.”
Fortunately, this incident did not descend into bloodshed, and the man who challenged the deputies — a member of the Arizona Minuteman vigilante movement named Richard Malley — was arrested for aggravated assault. He is now out on $10,000 bail.
But it is not difficult to imagine how a showdown between an overly belligerent sheriff’s department and an armed vigilante could have ended very differently. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio practically admits as much. According to the anti-immigrant sheriff, Malley is “lucky he didn’t see 30 rounds fired into him.”