Racial profiling, ignoring sex crimes, and birtherism: Arpaio’s legacy

The sheriff Trump just pardoned has done severe damage to Arizona, and to the country.

In this Feb. 4, 2009, file photo, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, orders approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of Tent City, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
In this Feb. 4, 2009, file photo, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, orders approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of Tent City, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File

President Donald Trump issued a pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio late Friday night, effectively guaranteeing that the man who helped shape one of the country’s most violent anti-immigrant crackdowns will avoid doing time for racial profiling and targeting Arizona’s Latinx community in particular.

In 2011, Arpaio, was ordered by a federal judge to stop detaining people on the sole basis of their immigration status. Earlier this year, he was charged with criminal contempt after years of disregarding that order. The charge is punishable with up to six months in jail; Trump has now ensured Arpaio will not serve any of that time.

Arpaio—who proclaimed himself “America’s toughest sheriff”—spent 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, which is home to the city of Phoenix. During that time he oversaw countless horrors towards the area’s residents, in addition to perpetuating national conspiracy theories and violating the U.S. Constitution. In the time since Trump’s pardon, many publications and individuals have detailed Arpaio’s notoriety, including a viral Twitter thread from the Phoenix New Times.

Here are a few of the standouts of Arpaio’s long, sordid career:

Racially profiling the Latinx community

As Arpaio’s conviction made clear, the sheriff’s history with Maricopa County’s Latinx residents has been tinged with violence. The Department of Justice’s 2012 complaint against Arpaio honed in on the abuse Latinx people had endured under the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, or MCSO. Among the offenses detailed in the report were numerous slurs, with various Latinx prisoners stating they were called “paisas,” “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.”

The report went on to note that Latinx drivers were disproportionately singled out by law enforcement under Arpaio.

“Latino drivers are almost four times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct,” read the report, citing a study conducted on the issue. “In the northwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are over seven times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct… Most strikingly, in the northeast portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct.”

Other allegations detailed the animosity Latinx prisoners faced when they were unable to fluently comprehend English, as well as the unlawful detention of numerous Latinx area residents.

Running a “concentration camp”

Among Arpaio’s most notorious legacies is Tent City, an outdoor jail near Phoenix often referred to as a “concentration camp.” Established in 1993, the prison was built to hold around two thousand inmates, who were forced to endure brutal heat while wearing pink underwear and pinstripe jumpsuits. At the time of its opening, Arpaio argued the prison would help with overcrowding, something emphasized in an early press release.

“Sheriff Arpaio never wants an officer to hesitate arresting someone based on the idea that there’s no room in jail,” the release read. “In fact, he put up a huge pink neon vacancy sign above Tent City to prove he’s serious.”

Serious he was. At its height, the jail held 1,700 inmates, though as of 2017 the number hovered around 700 to 800. Once they arrived, they were treated to Arpaio’s approach to prison. Those kept at Tent City were subject to the full weight of Arizona’s sweltering sun, experiencing temperatures of up to 137 degrees during the summer. Arpaio once marched inmates through Phoenix, and made a mockery of the uniforms he required them to wear. Former inmate Francisco Chairez wrote for the Washington Post that Arpaio banned newspapers, limited the food inmates had access to, and forced them to contend with the elements, whether hot or cold. Racial discrimination also came hand-in-hand with Tent City, where inmates of color were disproportionately singled out and subject to violence and abuse. Undocumented prisoners were even more marginalized, in addition to being kept in a separate area of the jail.

While numerous human rights organizations and activists blasted Tent City and Arpaio for mistreating inmates and flagrantly violating their rights, Arpaio took pride in the jail, marking its anniversaries with celebrations and heralding the example it set. When prisoners were captured on camera yelling “Hitler! Hitler!” in 2009, Arpaio brushed it off.

“But even if it was a concentration camp, what difference does it make?” he asked. “I still survived. I still kept getting re-elected.”

In April, officials announced that Tent City would be shutting down, saving $4.5 million in costs.

Failing to investigate sex crimes

A disproportionate focus on Latinx communities and immigrants of color monopolized much of Arpaio’s team—leading other issues to fall by the wayside. For years, Arpaio’s sheriff department came under fire for its lack of concern over cases of sexual assault and other related crimes. More than 400 alleged assaults between 2005 and 2007 had to be re-evaluated after the department was found negligent in its investigation efforts. A large number of the cases came out of El Mirage, a working-class Phoenix suburb, and involved undocumented immigrants—a community unlikely to complain about investigative failures due to their precarious position. Many of the cases cited also involved the molestation of young children, including toddlers as young as two years old.

Following uproar and significant press coverage, critics called for justice and demanded Arpaio’s resignation. But while the sheriff acknowledged the oversight, he defended his policies and doubled down.

“Right now, I’m comfortable with the management I have, that this situation has been resolved,” he said at the time, adding, “I probably will give more special attention to this type of unit than I may have in the past. I’ll probably look into it more closely myself to make sure it’s running smoothly, and give it more resources.”

Perpetuating “birtherism”

While Arizonans have absorbed the bulk of Arpaio’s policies and rhetoric, the wider United States isn’t immune. Arpaio has long argued that former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate isn’t real, part of a larger racially-driven conspiracy movement known as “birtherism.” In 2011, the sheriff appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and questioned whether Obama was in fact born in Hawaii. At a press conference in Maricopa County in 2012 he declared Obama’s birth certificate to be a forgery, alleging that his immigration records had been destroyed as part of a larger conspiracy and effort to keep the president in office.

“A six-month-long investigation conducted by my Cold Case Posse had led me to believe, there is probable cause to believe, that President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate released by the White House on April, 27, 2011, is a computer-generated forgery,” Arpaio said at the time. “I do not believe that it is a scan of an original 1961 paper document, as represented by the White House when the long-form birth certificate was made public.”

Skepticism over Obama’s place of birth led the sheriff to Trump, also a long-time proponent of “birther” questions. Trump expressed support for Arpaio’s rhetoric years before his own election, and in 2016 Arpaio stumped for Trump at the Republican National Convention.

“My most important mission,” he said at the time, “is to elect Donald Trump.”