It took a village and a decade to bring “America’s toughest sheriff” to justice. But finally, on July 31 Joe Arpaio was declared guilty of criminal contempt by Judge Susan Bolton.
The verdict was the culmination of a long legal process and fight against the sheriff’s misguided anti-immigrant crusade to racially profile Latinos and abuse his power against a myriad of real or perceived opponents.
Arpaio’s sentencing will take place on October 5. The octogenarian is facing up to six months in prison. He and his legal team are appealing the decision and claim they should be entitled to a jury trial.
No matter how this ends, Arpaio faced a judge who found the sheriff guilty on the basis of overwhelming evidence, including the sheriff’s own incriminatory statements. During the series of legal proceedings, Arpaio showed disregard and contempt for Judge Snow, who had asked him to stop racially profiling at the conclusion of the long Melendres vs. Arpaio trial.
What are the facts that contributed to this victory for the community? There are seven key elements:
Data collection: Through the years, community groups and activists methodically gathered evidence and documented cases to demonstrate that the anti-immigrant policies adopted by Arizona and championed by Arpaio were a slippery slope to unconstitutional racial profiling. We remember the great actions of the Arpaio response team who followed the MCSO’s “saturation patrols” in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. This is an example of the great work videographer Dennis Gilman did to document Arpaio’s actions.
Stellar legal team: ACLU’s expert legal team shone in court, bringing a long and complicated case clearly to the judge and the public. Kudos to Cecillia Wang, Dan Pochoda and everyone who worked for years on this case.
Leadership: Early in the battle against Arpaio, Lydia Guzman, Danny Ortega, Antonio Bustamante, Roberto Reveles, Mary Rose and Earl Wilcox, Margarito Blancas, Salvador Reza, Chris Fleishman, Amy and Bob McMullen, and many others organized, coordinated, gave speeches, asked people for patience, healed, comforted and confronted Arpaio and the MCSO. Their great example inspired a new cadre of young activists to join the fight.
Community: Grassroots groups were created and non-profits were formed to fight Arpaio in a different way, including Los Comites de Defensa del Barrio with Tonatierra, Puente, Center for Neighborhood Leadership, Somos America, Respect-Respecto, Cop Watch and Lucha. A group was even formed by the courts to monitor MCSO’s progress in adopting the court-ordered changes, led by a court-appointed monitor and a citizen group that included Angeles Maldonado, Viri Hernandez, and others.
Special recognition goes to Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, a business owner group that stood against the current, with Todd Lanfried spearheading the effort.
Dogged journalism: Although for the most part the media gave a pass to Arpaio and his antics, (fearful of Joe’s loyalists and willingly participating in his media shows), great persistent in-depth writing stood out from the crowd. Our founders, Jim Larkin and Michel Lacey, confronted the ire of the sheriff when they supported journalists who uncovered Arpaio’s misconduct. Joe, in retaliation, demanded the personal information of journalists and New Times online readers. Arpaio jailed Lacey and Larkin when the media executives denied Joe’s request and later sued in court. The settlement of these affronts against freedom of expression and journalism gave birth to Frontera Fund.
Valeria Fernandez created Two Americans, a documentary contrasting the lives of Arpaio and one young citizen affected by the workplace raids. Great court reporting from Jude Joffe Block of KJZZ and national reports from Terry Greene-Sterling were widely read.
We look forward to Jude and Terry’s book on Joe Arpaio, his rise to power and his downfall, which will be published next year.
Stephen Lemons never let Arpaio rest and discovered a wacky false conspiracy against Judge Snow concocted by Arpaio and others in a failed attempt to discredit the court. Some of his articles can be accessed here, and each and every one ends in a novelesque cliffhanger.
Resistance and protest: Community groups staged protests during worksite raids, screaming to detainees their rights. To fight a common foe, a powerful sense of community was created among business leaders and community organizations like Puente, CNL, the ADAC, LUCHA and others. Who can forget the inflatable figure of Joe in stripes and handcuffs being paraded in front of the court?
Voter mobilization: Community organizations joined forces to mobilize voters election after election, finally culminating with the defeat of the sheriff at the ballot box in November 2016. The BAZTA Arpaio campaign, which Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund supported, earned national recognition and praise for their multi-level approach to campaigning against Arpaio.
This is not the end of the story. Community groups are already preparing to mobilize for the fight and win against the Trump administration. The resistance against Arpaio provides a good blueprint for victory.