Conservative Republican Joseph M. “Joe” Arpaio was first voted into office in 1992 in Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio styles himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and is well known for his outspoken stance against illegal immigration. The problem, however, is that Arpaio has been accused of everything from racial profiling to abuse of power. To avert some of his negative attention, Arpaio has revisited the discredited “birther” conspiracy. Let’s first discuss a few of his legal problems.
In June 2008, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department began investigating Arpaio along with accusations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures. This investigation was conducted under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlaws discrimination related to programs that receive federal funds. In 2009, Arpaio announced at a press conference that he would not cooperate with the Federal investigation and in September 2010, the Justice Department filed suit against Arpaio to compel his cooperation. The suit was settled in June, 2011, after Arpaio agreed to allow federal investigators to interview his employees and access thousands of documents. Following this 3-year investigation, the Justice Department released its report that concluded that the Sheriff’s Office has “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” that “reaches the highest levels of the agency.” The report accused Arpaio of engaging in “unconstitutional policing” by unfairly targeting Latinos for detention and arrest and retaliating against critics and was the worst pattern of racial profiling in U. S. History. As a result of the Justice Department report, this past December 2011, the Department of Homeland Security revoked Arpaio’s authority to identify and detain illegal immigrants. In a separate action on December 23, 2011, a federal judge enjoined Arpaio’s office from “detaining any person based only on knowledge or reasonable belief, without more, that the person is unlawfully present within the United States,” substantially putting an end to his anti-illegal immigration enforcement.
In 2008 a federal grand jury began an inquiry of Arpaio for abuse of power. He is being investigated for politically motivated and “bogus” prosecutions which Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has called “a reign of terror.” The targets of Arpaio’s alleged abuse of power have included Mayor Gordon, a Democrat, and a long list of other state, county and judicial officials. If you got in Arpaio’s way, whether Democrat or Republican, he was coming after you.
In July 2010, Arpaio established the “Campaign to Re-Elect Joe Arpaio 2012,” to fund ads critical of Rick Romley, a candidate in the Republican Primary for Maricopa County Attorney and Arizona Attorney General candidate Republican Tom Horne even though Arpaio was not running for re-election since his term does not expire until the end of 2012. One of the ads, a direct mailer, promoted the defeat of Romley and was an in-kind contribution to Bill Montgomery, Romley’s opponent, in violation of Arizona election laws. Although the “Campaign to Re-Elect Joe Arpaio 2012” was fined $153,978, the ads apparently worked because Montgomery defeated Romley.
An analysis by the Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget found Arpaio misspent almost $100 million in taxpayer dollars. The analysis showed that money from a restricted detention fund only to be used to pay for jail items such as food, detention officers’ salaries and equipment, was used by Arpaio to pay employees to patrol Maricopa County. The analysis also showed that many Sheriff’s Office employees, whose salaries were paid from the restricted detention fund, were working job assignments different from those recorded in their personnel records. Arpaio’s office apparently kept a separate set of personnel books detailing actual work assignments that were different from information kept on the county’s official human-resources records. Arpaio also used the detention fund to pay for investigations of political rivals and activities involving his human-smuggling unit. In addition, the analysis showed a number of inappropriate spending items including a trip to Alaska where deputies stayed at a fishing resort, and trips to Disneyland.
After receiving a copy of an internal memo written by Maricopa Deputy Chief Frank Munnell alleging misconduct and mismanagement by Arpaio’s second in command and his top officers, in October 2010, the US Attorney for Arizona confirmed that the FBI and Department of Justice were conducting criminal investigations into its allegations.
Apparently to move the publicity of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation away from him, Arpaio claimed that after receiving a petition of 300 signatures from the Tea Party, he decided to launch an investigation into President Obama’s birth place, something that has been debunked on numerous occasions. (You may recall that Donald Trump claimed that his “investigators” uncovered evidence that the President was not born in the United States, but Trump never released anything supporting his claim.)
We all know that Tea Party conspiracy theories allege that President Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and is therefore not eligible to be President. Some theories even contend that President Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, or that his birth certificate is a forgery. Still others claim that because his father was from Kenya, that means he held dual citizenship at birth (British and American), and the dual citizenship means Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States. These bizarre theories have been characterized by some commentators as racist or a racial reaction to the first African American president of the United States. I agree with their characterization.
Belief in the conspiracy theories has persisted despite Obama’s pre-election release of his official birth certificate from Hawaii in 2008. There was also confirmation by the Hawaii Department of Health, concurred in by its Republican Governor based on the original documents, and the April 2011 release of a certified copy of Obama’s original Certificate of Live Birth. Other evidence of Obama’s Hawaiian birth also surfaced such as birth announcements published in August 1961 in two Hawaii newspapers. Of course, the Tea Party and other right-wing radical folks will not let the facts get in the way of their theories.
Other than the baseless claim that Obama’s birth certificate was a “forgery,” Arapaio didn’t give any hints as to what his birther “Cold Case Posse” had found, but insisted his press conference was not driven by a desire to gain media attention. “I don’t have press conferences just to get my name on television,” he said.
“What should I do, throw it in the waste basket and forget about it, like everyone else is this country has done?” Arpaio said. “But once again, I take my elected sheriff’s status very serious, and when the people ask me to do something I try to do it regardless of the repercussions, the politics and the media.”
Arpaio knows he is in trouble with the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation and is also trying to “rally the birthers” for support. To say that Arpaio is “America’s Toughest Sheriff” does not mean that he has integrity. On the contrary, based on his narcissistic, unscrupulous and devious behavior over the years, Arpaio should be in prison. Depending on the results of the Justice Department’s investigation, that may very well be the outcome, but that’s just my take.