Trump pardons former sheriff notorious for racially profiling Latinx community

A Friday night pardon.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix, during a news Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. And now Trump is coming back to Arizona at another crucial moment in his presidency. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix, during a news Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. And now Trump is coming back to Arizona at another crucial moment in his presidency. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

President Donald Trump has pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose decades of racial profiling Arizona’s Latinx community sparked widespread backlash, of a misdemeanor criminal contempt of court conviction.

“Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” a White House statement released Friday evening read in part. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.”

Earlier this year, a federal judge charged Arpaio of criminal contempt for his “flagrant disregard” of a 2011 order to obey the U.S. Constitution by ceasing to racially profile the Latinx community in his state. The racial profiling lawsuit against Arpaio, first filed in 2007, has racked up almost $56 million in taxpayer costs since then.

Arpaio thanked the president in a series of tweets issued an hour after the announcement. He also asked people to donate to his legal fund.

The presidential pardon comes just days after Trump hinted multiple times that he would pursue a pardon for Arpaio.

“I’ll make a prediction. I think [Arpaio]’s going to be just fine, OK? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” the president teased the audience at a Tuesday night rally in Phoenix, Arizona. “But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

The sheriff has credited conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for helping convince Trump to take up his case.

During his time as sheriff, Arpaio and his deputies routinely detained suspected undocumented immigrants to hold for potential deportation proceedings. He has detained immigrants, people of Latinx origin, and even U.S. citizens for hours without a warrant. He rose to national notoriety for making people wear pink underwear and forcing detainees to stay in “Tent City,” an outdoor detention facility open year round. The jails overseen by Arpaio, who brags about being the country’s “toughest sheriff,” have alarmingly high suicide rates.

“In pardoning Joe Arpaio, Trump further clarifies his twisted view of what America should look like,” Judith Browne Dianis, the executive director of Advancement Project’s national office, said in a statement. “He envisions a country where white nationalists get a nod from the White House and rogue cops are encouraged to abuse their power and profile people of color. This move signals to police that even if the courts find them guilty of racial profiling, they will have the backing of the president of the United States. This is yet another drastic moral and leadership failure from Trump.”

Some legal experts have argued that Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio, which essentially sends the signal that the rule of law doesn’t matter when it comes to policies affecting immigrants and Latinx people, could be considered an impeachable offense.

“It’s one thing to pardon a criminal out of a sense of mercy or on the belief that he has paid his debt to society,” Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman wrote in a Bloomberg piece earlier this month. “It’s trickier when the president pardons someone who violated the law in pursuit of governmental policy, the way George H.W. Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra participants, including Oliver North. But it would be an altogether different matter if Trump pardoned Arpaio for willfully refusing to follow the Constitution and violating the rights of people inside the U.S.”

In a statement released shortly after the White House’s move to issue the pardon, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice said that Trump “exercised his lawful authority and we respect his decision.”

This is a breaking story and has been updated as additional information emerged.