Joe Arpaio v. political hacks

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the only LEO conducting an Obama eligibility investigation
Print Friendly

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa Co., AZ, has fought against federal political hacks for three years. Now he will fight them in court. Ironically, the Justice Department accuses Joe Arpaio of “roughing up” suspects and prisoners, while it has a murder on its collective conscience.

Who accuses Joe Arpaio, and of what?

The voters of Maricopa County first chose Joe Arpaio as their sheriff twenty years ago. Before then, he served as a police officer and drug enforcement agent and supervisor. He got his start in law enforcement as an Army MP in France.

While serving as sheriff, Joe Arpaio has made himself famous for defying convention. He houses inmates in tents. He issued pink boxer shorts to inmates to cut down on inmate violence. He restricts inmate’ choices of cable TV channels. When people challenge him on these things, he quotes this proverb:

If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

The Justice Department, beginning in 2009, started investigating Joe Arpaio. They say he arrests people “just because” they are Latino, treats Latino prisoners more harshly than non-Latino prisoners, and improperly followed up on citizens’ complaints about suspicious persons of dark skin and accented speech.

The beef is typical of that which liberal lawyers have against sheriff’s offices and police departments nationwide. Technically, it arises out of the federal Rodney King law. The Justice Department looks for police departments to accuse of always treating suspects worse if they are not white.

But the Eric Holder Justice Department has a double incentive. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is investigating the putative President himself, and whether Barack H. Obama truly is President.

Recently, Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Perez demanded that the sheriff have a federal monitor in his office. This the sheriff would not do. So Perez sued him. The sheriff answered:

I will fight this to the bitter end.

(See these reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cable News Network, and ProCon.)

Details of the complaint

Bloggers at The Huffington Post and elsewhere make much of some of the more sensational things that the thirty-two-page complaint says that Joe Arpaio or some of his officers did. The most lurid example involves a Latina woman whom sheriffs officers stopped on suspicion of a moving violation. ProCon’s paraphrase of the complaint includes this gem:

[The complaint says that] a MCSO officer slammed a pregnant Latino woman into the hood of her car—stomach first—three times and then left her seated in a patrol car without air conditioning for 30 minutes. The woman was cited with failure to provide insurance, which was resolved when the woman provided proof of insurance to a court.

Traffic cops often dispute with drivers about whether they have insurance. This reporter watched a driver in Houston, TX beat a similar rap. A traffic officer pulled him over, for speeding or some such thing, and said that he didn’t have insurance. In the days that followed, no one bothered to check with him. Finally he came to court, watched as the court selected a jury, and then, when the trial began, he pulled out his insurance card. Case dismissed. (This reporter was a member of the jury pool on the day this case came to trial.)

True enough, traffic cops don’t often “rough up” drivers the way the Justice Department says that this sheriff’s officer did. But Robert Robb, columnist with The Arizona Republic, says that something is missing in the Justice Department complaint: hard proof.

If true, it’s vile stuff. But it is unclear the extent to which DOJ has vetted the accusations or how well they will stand up if challenged in court.

Worse than that, Robb asked: Where are the statistics that clearly show that sheriff’s officers pull over Latino drivers four to nine times more often than they pull over white drivers? If the Justice Department has a study showing that, they haven’t released it. Nor have they any good reason to hold it back. Furthermore, another part of the complaint says that Joe Arpaio doesn’t keep good enough records to prove or disprove that point.

But no one wants to talk about another part of the complaint, even earlier than the driver rough-ups: the Human Smuggling Unit. Joe Arpaio wants to stop people from cramming other people into trucks and driving them across the border into his county. So he created a special unit to stop smugglers and their passengers. This might be where, according to Robb, the Justice Department says that the sheriff’s office doesn’t keep good enough records. But this part of the complaint is the opinion of the Justice Department that the HSU stops Latino drivers for no good reason.

The liberal press and blogosphere also make much of the “suppression sweeps,” another buzz-phrase from the complaint. The complaint says that sheriff’s officers will “sweep” a workplace or a neighborhood, looking for illegal aliens. Again, the law does not let an illegal alien work in this country, nor let anyone hire him. If the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau did its job, Joe Arpaio and his officers would not have to do it for them.

The best way to sum up the complaint is: Sheriff Joe Arpaio enforces immigration law, a thing that the Justice Department will not do, and does not want Joe Arpaio to do, either. The Justice Department says that Joe Arpaio often catches law-abiding citizens and other lawful residents in their “sweeps” and holds them for hours (but not days) at a time. The complaint does not say what happens to the illegal aliens.

The complaint also says that the sheriff’s office treats Latino prisoners more harshly in its jails. It pays particular attention to the Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix. This is a maximum-security prison, where the department sends the meanest and most dangerous men. The sheriff had to lock that jail down after a Latino inmate gang started a “rumble” with black inmates. (The sheriff has since lifted the lockdown.) One black inmate later called his family to say that Joe Arpaio had saved his life, and the lives of others, by intervening to stop the “rumble” and deal with the things that led up to it.

Joe Arpaio in wider context

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, political target and defender of the very office of sheriff

Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ.

The residents of Maricopa County, so far, seem no more reluctant to have Joe Arpaio as their sheriff for another four years than they had before. (One Arizona resident said today that the federal government would lose its case against him, perhaps after ten years had passed.)

He has given them fresh reason to, with his stand on immigration. Governor Jan Brewer is fighting for her State’s right to enforce the immigration laws that the Justice Department will not enforce. Joe Arpaio has been doing that for three years. That flummoxes the Justice Department even more than the Obama eligibility investigation he opened. The same Justice Department that has a beef with the way Joe Arpaio enforces immigration law, will not enforce it themselves, and is at the United States Supreme Court saying that no State has such rights.

P. J. Gladnick, at the Media Research Center, found this other gem at The Huffington Post. In that article, Howard Fineman admits that the lawsuit against Joe Arpaio is political. Barack H. Obama hopes that Republicans will have a problem defending Joe Arpaio. Thus the government wants to drive a wedge between conservatives and Latinos. That they would have to drive such a wedge is telling: Latinos are not naturally liberal in the way they run their lives.

Gladnick isn’t the first to accuse the Justice Department of playing politics. Last night, Charles Krauthammer said to TV host Bill O’Reilly that Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, is

a political hack…ready to do the bidding of his political masters.

Krauthammer cites many lawsuits that the Justice Department has filed in Arizona, Texas, and elsewhere. Krauthammer says that the Justice Department will certainly lose these cases. Why did they file them? To garner votes for Barack Obama. Krauthammer also cites something else: Operation Fast and Furious, in which a man died on account of shenanigans that began in the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Thus far, Joe Arpaio has released no answer to the lawsuit. So all that any reporter has available is the complaint, and his or her own pre-conceived notions about how a sheriff ought to run his office, or even whether the office of sheriff is obsolete.  Last month, the Attorney General of Delaware tried to strip the sheriffs of the four counties in his State of their arrest powers. This could be more of the same. First Sheriff Joe, and who’s next?

This could be the key. A sheriff is the only law-enforcement officer that the people choose. Perhaps the worthies at the Justice Department would rather have only law-enforcement officers that government executives, like mayors, county executives, governors, and Presidents, appoint. Such an officer serves at the pleasure of the executive who appointed him. But a sheriff has a direct mandate from the people who chose him. Joe Arpaio likes to mention that. It is a point that anyone who values his liberty should bear in mind, along with waiting to hear what the sheriff has to say in defense of himself and his department.