How Trump Just Took a Dump on America
Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is a horrific crime against America.
While much of the United States watched in horror as one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history was to make landfall in Texas, President Donald Trump pardoned one of the worst state criminals Arizona has ever seen. That was August 25, 2017.
Direct damage from Hurricane Harvey could end up costing many lives and as much as $180 billion in damage, according to current estimates. The pardon of Joe Arpaio, while it won’t cost as many lives or as much money, will also have far-reaching and damaging implications.
Joe Arpaio was and is one of the United States’ worst racists ever to be elected to public office. While serving as the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona over a period of 24 years, his consistent abuse of power was wellknown, not just locally but across the country. He also reveled in that abuse of power, referring to himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff”, a self-proclaimed moniker that for him seemed to justify anything he did – and to give him the right to operate outside the boundaries of the law. His most notorious practice was that of racial profiling, which the U.S. Department of Justice had concluded was the worst record of racial profiling in U.S. history.
These included almost two decades of going after potential illegals in the 2000s and 2010s. They involved conducting traffic stops which Arpaio’s office claimed were only to enforce immigration laws, stopping people only because they appeared to be Latino. In related sweeps, Arpaio’s police would conduct raids targeting just Hispanic neighborhoods, again on the pretext that they were preventing illegals from staying in the country. Then, with no authority to hold those his people had arrested, he kept them in jail without charges, then had his deputies turn over those he had illegally seized to Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol Officials, who would then take steps to prosecute them.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued to defend many of those Arpaio and his deputies had gone after as part of the profiling. Those people included many U.S. citizens who were illegally stopped or harassed just because they looked Hispanic, in a grotesque abuse of Constitutional Rights.
A number of civil lawsuits found Arpaio and his people
guilty of racial profiling in many of these cases. There were also other lawsuits. Most of the cases were settled through payoffs and with no admission of guilt. The evidence of guilt in the payoffs put out by the state to protect Arpaio and allow him to continue his wrongdoing, however, was high. The Phoenix New Times estimates that over $140 million of state funds were used to pay fines and cover litigation expenses just for these types of cases alone.
Arpaio’s crimes were not limited to these alone.
Inadequate Investigation and Prosecution of Sex Crimes
There were over 400 cases of sexual assault, many involving victims who were the children of undocumented immigrants, that Arpaio’s office somehow could not take the time to look into properly --- between 2005 and 2007. These cases were brought up by both The East Valley Tribune and the Associated Press. Many of these crimes were reported in El Mirage, a middle-class suburb of Phoenix which had lost its own Police Department in 2015 and Arpaio’s Sheriff’s Department was supposed to handle policing. When the local police force was put back in place, those who took over found that many sensitive cases there, with a significant percentage filed by illegal immigrants, had never been looked into at all. Among those cases was the brutal assault on a 13-year old girl who opened the door to a stranger looking to make a phone call, was knocked unconscious and raped. There were also at least 32 reported child molestations, including one involving a victim around 2 years old.
Eventually a major case was filed against Arpaio, related to the March 7, 2007, rape of Sabrina Morrison, a 13-year old girl suffering from a mental disability, by her uncle. The terrified girl reported the case the next day to her teacher, who then called in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). A rape kit was taken at the time, but the detective assigned to the case said that there were no obvious signs of sexual assault, no semen or signs of trauma. Branded a liar by the police and her family, she ended up being raped many times more by the uncle, who said he would kill her if she did anything. She eventually became pregnant from the assaults and, via a series of events, the original rape case she had filed was reopened. It was then discovered the original rape kit did show the presence of semen, in direct contradiction to the detective in Arpaio’s offices. In August 2012, Sabrina Morrison filed a notice of claim against Arpaio and Maricopa County for gross negligence for $3.5 million.
Not long after, an internal memo surfaced from one of the detectives assigned to the girl’s case, blaming its mishandling on a high case load, only three detectives being available, and those three often being pulled off to investigate other things. County supervisors responded with more than $600,000 to fund six additional detectives for the sex crimes squad. Later Sheriff’s administrators could neither explain where those hires were eventually made or even what happened to the money which had been allocated for the additional sex crime staff.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s response, when approached by the press about these sex crimes, was simply that, “If there were any victims, I apologize to those victims.” No apology or acceptance of any responsibility in these matters was ever made.
Abuse of Inmates Under His Jurisdiction
Arpaio also made a name for himself for his inhumane treatment of inmates in jails under his domain.
Among his many criticized actions were the creation of a “Tent City”, which Arpaio set up starting in 1993 to be used for convicted and sentenced prisoners of the Maricopa County Jail. Arpaio proudly described as a “concentration camp”, where temperatures reached as high as 145 degrees F during a 118 degrees F heat wave in Phoenix. Some inmates complained that fans near their beds were not working and their shoes were melting from the heat. Arpaio’s response was to tell them, “"It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths!”
Amnesty International filed suit against Arpaio’s tent city jail extension, saying that it was not “an adequate or humane alternative to housing inmates in suitable jail facilities”.
In 1995, Arpaio put in place chain gangs made up of female inmates. He also instituted a bizarre policy of requiring inmates to wear pink underwear because it avoided inmates’ stealing the underwear afterwards. Arpaio claimed the policy had saved the county major amounts of money.
Illegal Targeting of Political Opponents
With so many legal issues filed against Arpaio, he eventually drew political fire from a variety of opponents as he ran for office. Between 2008 and 2010, he and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas ran their own slander and attack campaigns on those who attempted to stand up against him, claiming corruption against those they went after. They worked together to go after judges, county supervisors and administrators
who stood in Arpaio’s way of doing just about anything. These attacks resulted in criminal charges filed by Arpaio and his cronies against a number of individuals on trumped-up charges, lawsuits against the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, and even a federal civil-racketeering suit against the supervisors, four judges, and attorneys who worked with the county.
Thomas and Arpaio even went so far as to pull together a grand jury to indict a number of judges in Maricopa County. The grand jury slammed back on Arpaio and Thomas and ordered the two to stop any further investigation of those targeted here.
They did continue, however, and lost every single case they filed in their harassment. For former Maricopa Attorney Thomas, his own abuse of power in these cases resulted in him being disbarred by a disciplinary panel of the Arizona Supreme Court. In its ruling against him – which one could also conclude should also have applied to his partner “Sheriff Joe” – it said its panel found “clear and convincing evidence” that Thomas brought malicious and unfounded criminal and civil charges against political opponents. As the panel concluded, “Were this a criminal case, we are confident the evidence would establish this conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Arpaio and Thomas targeting such high-powered legal individuals in such a reckless manner created a mess for the state. 11 individuals filed lawsuits and/or legal claims against Arpaio and Thomas, and 11 won. The payout awards to those 11 included:
Gary Donahoe, retired Superior Court judge: $1,275,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $767,127.
Kenneth Fields, retired Superior Court judge: $100,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $81,040.
Barbara Mundell, retired Superior Court judge: $500,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $134,273.
Anna Baca, retired Superior Court judge: $100,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $112,588.
Stephen Wetzel, former county technology director: $75,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $107,647.
Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager and county budget director: $122,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $458,318.
Don Stapley, former county supervisor: $3.5 million settlement. County $1,682,020.
Mary Rose Wilcox, county supervisor: $975,000 settlement, plus $9,938 in court-ordered legal costs. County legal expenses to date: over $375,442.
Susan Schuerman, Stapley’s executive assistant: $500,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $200,201.
Conley Wolfswinkel, Stapley’s business associate: $1,400,000 settlement. County legal expenses: $1,586,152.
Andy Kunasek, county supervisor: $123,110 settlement. County legal expenses: $1,150.
There were other cases filed against Arpaio for similar actions, including a finding by Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo that Arpaio "misused the power of his office to target members of the Board of Supervisors for criminal investigation”. Others included wrongful arrest and entrapment, and multiple abuse-of-power cases.
The Racial Profiling Cases
In the racial profiling cases that were the subject of Arpaio’s conviction, they go back to 2005. Then he and his deputies began regularly conducting saturation patrols and immigration sweeps, targeting Latino neighborhoods. These and other illegal immigration sweeps eventually resulted in a number of lawsuits, one of which involved the use of racial profiling in traffic stops.
Although the investigation was continuing, Judge Snow, a district judge, found that Arpaio’s racially-based traffic stops violated constitutional law and ordered it stopped. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit eventually found that the policies and practices used in these stops were also discriminatory, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution. That order came down in late 2013.
After that order, Arpaio was discovered during a training session for the MCSO telling those he was ‘training’ that, “we don't racially profile. I don't care what everybody says." Judge Snow then convened a hearing in March 2014 where he blasted Arpaio, saying he had “defied and even mocked his order to stop singling out Latinos during routine patrols, traffic stops and workplace raids." He ordered Arpaio and his staff to send out a letter correcting Arpaio’s bogus statement, and required it to be distributed to all MCSO Deputies.
Two days later Arpaio sent out a fundraising letter to his
constituents, and complained of ‘Rampant UNFOUNDED charges of racism and racial profiling in my office.” Judge Snow’s response to the charges was furious:
"I want to be careful and say that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has used race – has illegitimately used race as a factor, and to the extent that constitutes racial profiling, that's what it is and that's what I found and the sheriff is saying that people have wrongfully accused him of that as of last Wednesday, which was after the meeting in which he was here.
"So to the extent that I have a sheriff, who I'm not going to prohibit from mischaracterizing my order publicly, to the extent that I have an MCSO that is rife with a misunderstanding of my order and a mischaracterization of it when they are the people that have to understand it and implement it, I have grave concerns..."
Behind the scenes, Arpaio apparently did what he always did with his political enemies. According to the Phoenix New Times, he initiated a criminal investigation of Judge Snow as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.
Eventually the continuing lies and bad blood caught up with Arpaio, however, concluding with him being convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt for refusing to obey a court order blocking him from continuing his racial profiling actions. He was eventually expected to serve six months in prison for that offense.
Compared to all Arpaio has done in his career in violation of the law, this was only a small conviction. Some have likened it to the case of notorious Chicago crime figure Alphonse Capone, who, despite years of gun-running, illegal bootlegging, many murders, prostitution rings, and a reign of terror in many other ways, was eventually only convicted in a way that ‘stuck’ by trapping him for not declaring all his income. Arpaio’s six months in jail would also have been a small price to pay for what he had done, but at least there would have been some vindication for those he had harmed.
Prior to the close of the trial against Arpaio, President Donald Trump allegedly asked his colleagues at the Department of Justice if there was a way for the DOJ to order a halt to the prosecution proceedings. He was apparently advised not to try it. If he had, it might have yet provided another obstruction of justice claim against him, so he is lucky in this case of that advice, at least.
So the President waited until the trial was over and preliminary sentencing for Arpaio was suggested at six months in jail. He would have received his final sentencing on October 5. Trump pardoned him on the afternoon of August 25, under cover of the darkness of Hurricane Harvey bearing down on a defenseless Texas. Trump had previously telegraphed his likely decision to pardon, after having made previous statements praising the multi-decades long criminal actions of “Sherriff Joe” as just upholding the law.
The pardon electrified the nation. One civil rights leader commented on what happened as the equivalent of Trump “spitting in our face”. The executive director of the immigrant justice group Puente said Trump’s pardon showed how clearly Trump was lining up with white supremacists.
Alejandra Gomez, a director of LUCHA, Living United for Change in Arizona, a civil rights group founded in 2009, described Trump’s decision as a further example of “the erosion of our democracy”. She went on to call it “the dehumanization of our families”, saying that “Trump has sent a message from day one of his campaign that he was going to uphold white supremacy and racism”.
This is just one more of many discriminatory attacks Trump has leveled on America and Americans. Started with his public denunciation of Barack Obama as not an American and even implying he was of Islamic faith, to his campaign targeting both illegal Mexican immigrants and Muslims as evil, to his backing of the white supremacists in the ugly and deadly Charlottesville debacle, Trump has proven his contempt for those who are different than he is.
One can only hope that Arpaio will now be charged for some of the crimes they were never able to convict him of, and this time put him away for many years.