Will Arizona Voters Come Together to Remove “America’s Toughest Sheriff”?

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Is controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s time in office almost up? On Tuesday, news broke that the federal government will file criminal contempt-of-court charges against Arpaio for ignoring orders from a judge. Arpaio was ordered to stop his anti-immigration policies in Arizona, but didn’t comply.

Two days later, activists from a movement called Bazta Arpaio stood outside of the Phoenix sheriff’s office holding a balloon modeled to look like Arpaio in handcuffs. Their organizer Del Palacio said: “The community is excited. They know that this is the best chance we have to get him out of office. Momentum is on our side.”

The group is urging Hispanic people to vote against Arpaio, both to kick him out of office and also with the hopes that it will increase voter participation. The sheriff is seeking a seventh term, and has also been campaigning for Donald Trump, so the new criminal charges came at a pretty bad time for him.

Members of the Bazta Arpaio group said that he has abused their community for a long time and it is time to get him out of office. They will focus on door knocking and campaigning in Latino neighborhoods and will also drive around a red bus spreading their message.

The court process has been going on since 2008, when some civil rights groups filed a lawsuit regarding racial profiling in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. This led to findings of a pattern of racial bias and in 2013 Arpaio was told to stop his immigration-enforcement operations. These included racial profiling of Hispanic people at traffic stops, patrols in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, and detaining people solely based on their perceived immigration status.

In May of this year the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow, found Arpaio was guilty of civil contempt of court for ignoring his orders. The official charges were announced on Tuesday. Arpaio has said he didn’t defy the orders on purpose. But if found guilty, the 84-year-old self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” could face six months in jail.

In his statement on the case, Arpaio blamed Obama for being corrupt and the DOJ of charging him for political reasons.

According to experts, this is more of a symbolic move from the judge. “He’s really taking a stance that ‘Sheriff Joe’ is not above the law. That anyone can be held accountable for their behavior–even if you’re a very popular sheriff,” said criminal justice professor Cara Rabe-Hemp.

Arpaio is an outspoken Trump supporter who joined the fight to find out the “truth” about Obama’s birth certificate. He has also become known for forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and sleep outside. No matter how the election in November goes, Del Palacio and other activists have their minds set on not letting him get re-elected as sheriff. “Regardless of what happens in the trial, we’re going to remain focused to ensure that his tenure ends on November 8” he said.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at EVonZeipel@LawStreetMedia.com.



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