The debate will last for years to come, but on February 7, 2018, former Attorney General Eric Holder declared that Trump’s pardon of disgraced and voted-out former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a “misuse” of presidential power.
Arpaio was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos in 2013 after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action lawsuit in a long trial that brought statistical evidence of racial discrimination and profiling of Latinos.
Joe Arpaio later disobeyed the court order to stop immigration enforcement activities and was called to confront the court again in 2016. He was found guilty of criminal contempt of court in 2017.
President Obama’s DOJ, headed by Holder, was responsible to bring Arpaio to justice.
Trump decided to pardon Arpaio in spite of complaints by activists and civil liberties groups that reminded him of the former Sheriff’s autocratic abuse of power. The pardon had low support among Maricopa County residents, already tired of Joe and weary of the cost of the prolonged legal battles and settlements.
Holder told an audience in Washington that the president’s power to pardon is absolute, but he made some reflections on the merits of it:
“I think it’s instructive that power that is used relatively sparingly was used by this president to grant some relief to a person that I think is fundamentally undeserving of it.”
For more than 20 years, Arpaio earned a reputation as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” through extremist immigration enforcement policies that, at the end of the day, were not in the best interest and safety of the community.
He fostered a culture of extreme cruelty. Inside his jails, inmates’ human rights were abused in such way that many died or were injured due to medical neglect or outright physical violence. These tragedies resulted in a string of multi-million-dollar lawsuits that the county mostly settled. Additionally, inmates were subjected to the harshest climate in the nation while incarcerated at Tent City and were provided horrible mash as food.
Arpaio’s tough-on-crime façade fell when the Associated Press and other reporters found that his MCSO ignored hundreds of sex crime cases, including cases of alleged child abuse. Reporters discovered that many of those cases involved the children of undocumented immigrants.
He also went after many political opponents, including prominent members of the Phoenix community. In an effort to squelch the freedom of the press, Arpaio incarcerated our Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund founders, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, who in their Phoenix New Times fearlessly uncovered many of Joe Arpaio’s misdeeds.
Arpaio later released them without charges after the incident caused a national uproar. Read here about the incident.
Mr. Lacey and Mr. Larkin later sued the Sheriff. They used the proceeds of the settlement to start this immigration and human rights portal, and to disperse funds to immigrant rights organizations, many of them led by young people, immigrants and minorities.
But Arpaio was counting on Donald Trump’s ascendancy to power and was eager to offer his support early on in his campaign, becoming his campaign surrogate.
Arpaio was paid back for his loyalty to his fellow authoritarian with the presidential pardon, avoiding jail time but, unbeknownst to him, accepting guilt in the process.
The former sheriff lost his reelection bid in 2016, thanks to the mobilization of Latino voters through the BAZTA Arpaio campaign and because Maricopa County voters were tired of the monetary consequences of his abuse of power. Now Arpaio is running for the GOP nomination to fill the Senate seat that will be vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake when he retires at the end of this year.