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Trump pardons ex-Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Pardon 'carries an imputation of guilt and acceptance of a confession'

President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, allowing the former lawman to walk free despite facing sentencing for his conviction on criminal contempt charges in a racial profiling case.

Before his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, Trump hinted that he would pardon Arpaio, telling Fox News that he was "seriously considering" do so. However, while many suspected that Trump would use his campaign speech to announce the pardon, he demurred, telling the audience he didn't "want to cause any controversy."

Friday, Trump exercised his constitutional power to pardon Arpaio, although he bypassed the regular process that requires a five-year waiting period and lengthy federal review.

"Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration," Trump said.

Arpaio in fact only seized on immigration as a political issue in 2005, during the controversial heyday of the Minutemen when a man held a group of immigrants at gunpoint in the desert.

"Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old," Trump's pardon said, "and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon."

Arpaio did not immediately indicate if he had accepted the pardon. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (in Burdick v. United States) that a pardon "carries an imputation of guilt and acceptance of a confession of it."

The pardon was quickly decried by Democrats, and several prominent Republicans.

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Calling Trump's move an "abuse," U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said it was "a full-throated endorsement of selected racial prosecution and bigotry."

"If you're wronged by law enforcement, this president doesn't have your back. Racist vigilantism has a champion in the White House," the Tucson Democrat said. "This sets a sad precedent that only further divides our nation."

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has feuded with Trump, said that "I would have preferred that the president honor the judicial process and let it take its course."

Trump's issuing a pardon "undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law," said U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sowrn law officers should always seek to be above reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold," he said. Arpaio "was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge's orders"

"The president has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions," McCain said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Arpaio's violation of the court order, denounced the president's pardon of the sheriff.

"With his pardon of Arpaio, Trump has chosen lawlessness over justice, division over unity, hurt over healing," said Cecillia Wang, the ACLU's deputy legal director.

"A resilient, strong community rose up against Arpaio's unlawful practices and their triumph over him can never be undone, by Trump or anyone else," said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the Arizona ACLU. "The racist practices that Arpaio implemented and Trump foolishly admires are illegal and immoral and no pardon will ever change that reality."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey supported the move.

"I believe Sheriff Joe deserves credit for helping to reduce crime in Maricopa County over his long career," the Republican governor said.

"The president clearly has pardoning powers ... and with this action, he has brought finality to this chapter in Arizona's history. Sheriff Joe is my friend, and now he, Ava and their family can move on and enjoy their retirement together," Ducey said.

Earlier in the week, Trump had flirted with a pardon announcement, asking the crowd at his Phoenix rally to raucous cheers, "Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?" 

"Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? He should have a jury, but you know what, I'll make a prediction," he said.  

"I think he's going to be just fine, all right? But I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe can feel very good," he said.

Arpaio faced up to six month in prison after being convicted last month by a federal judge. He lost a bid for a seventh term last November to Paul Penzone, a Democrat.

In July, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found that Arpaio "willfully violated an order of the court," by disregarding another federal judge's order. In the 14-page decision, Bolton found that Arpaio and his staff showed a "flagrant disregard" for a court order to stop arresting people on the suspicion that they were unlawfully present in the United States.

Another federal court judge had ordered Arpaio to stop the practice of arresting motorists solely on suspicion they might be in the country illegally, but Arpaio "announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise," Bolton ruled.

The 85-year-old Arpaio was scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and faced a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The tab for settlements and compliance efforts in civil suits over discrimination and racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Arpaio is still mounting for taxpayers, but has already hit nearly $70 million.

"The court made its decision, the president made his, but the people had the final say in November. We are dedicated to earning trust and confidence from the community while ensuring the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office delivers exceptional law enforcement services," said Sheriff Penzone on Friday, declining to comment further.

The chair of the Arizona Democratic Party said Trump showed "sickening ... disregard for the rule of law."

"For years, Joe Arpaio tormented our community, broke up our families, all while he abused his power," said ADP's Alexis Tameron. "As Arizonans sought justice through our courts, many saw light from the years of abuse and hate, yet with a stroke of the pen, Donald Trump validated racism, bigotry, and corruption. Let's be clear, Joe Arpaio didn't earn this pardon, this was Donald Trump repaying a political favor, and this is disgraceful."

Latino Democrats in the Arizona Legislature blasted the pardon, saying the "announcement from President Trump is yet another display of disrespect to the Latino community in Arizona. During Joe Arpaio's 24 years as the sheriff in Maricopa County, he abused his position of authority to drive a personal agenda that promoted racism."

"Trump's very first presidential pardon reinforces a clear message to the nation about where he stands on respect for the law and for all residents of Arizona," said members of the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus. "No amount of time will erase Arpaio's hateful harassment and the fear he instilled in our community, and no one should be above the law."

'America's Toughest sheriff' a convicted criminal

Arpaio promoted himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff" and built his reputation by tilting at the federal government, and engaging hard-nosed practices that made him a conservative darling. 

While his agency was being accused of civil rights violations, Arpaio also launched an attack against President Barack Obama, arguing that the president's birth certificate was fake. 

In December 2011, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office violated the constitutional rights of people by detaining them without state charges, solely for violating civil immigration law. 

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However, despite this ruling, Arpaio allowed his deputies to continue holding people for another 17 months despite Snow's "clear and definite" order forbidding it, said Bolton.

Arpaio argued during trial that he had the authority to detain people under Arizona's controversial immigration bill, SB 1070 and under a federal agreement, known as 287(g), that allowed local police agencies to enforce immigration law. 

In 2009, the federal government rescinded MCSO's 287(g) agreement. 

However, Bolton ruled that Snow's order was clear: Arpaio and his agency could not continue this practice.

"Judge Snow’s preliminary injunction spelled out that detaining those persons past the time sufficient to conduct a criminal investigation was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and that Defendant had to cease the practice immediately," she wrote. 

Attorneys for Arpaio argued that the violations were the result of miscommunication, and that he had delegated enforcement of the order to his staff.

However, Bolton rejected this claim, saying that it was clear that Arpaio knew about the order, and that Arpaio said on "numerous occasions that he would continue to keep doing what he has been doing." 

Arpaio "willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates’ compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed," Bolton wrote.

Before the pardon, his attorneys had said they would appeal.

Arpaio’s office had good reason to pull over motorists, defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik said.

“What the sheriff’s office interpreted that (court order) to mean, what everyone at the trial interpreted that to mean, is that you don’t stop someone just for being an illegal alien,” Wilenchik said.

“The confusion here is that’s not what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing. Police generally stop someone for criminal violations. That’s exactly what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing,” Wilenchik said.

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Arpaio's trouble began in 2007, when the American Civil Liberties Union led a lawsuit against Arpaio, arguing that his agency racially profiled and illegally detained Latinos, violating their constitutional rights. 

Snow ruled against the agency in 2011, and then again in 2013. 

In May 2016, Snow once against ruled against Arpaio, finding that he and his top deputies repeatedly violated court orders, and charged Arpaio with civil contempt of court. 

"The Court finds that the Defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the Plaintiff class and the protection of its rights. They have demonstrated a persistent disregard for the orders of the Court, as well as an intention to violate and manipulate the laws and policies regulating their conduct," wrote Snow. 

The ACLU celebrated Bolton's finding. 

"This verdict is a vindication for the many victims of Joe Arpaio’s immigration policies, which were unconstitutional to begin with, and were doubly illegal when Arpaio flouted the court’s orders," said Cecellia Wang, the deputy legal director for the ACLU. "Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way—no one, not even America’s so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law."

While Arpaio's pugnacious style kept him in office for six terms, in 2016, Maricopa County voters refused to give him a seventh, instead voting for Democrat Paul Penzone. 

In a statement on the conviction, Sheriff Penzone called Bolton's ruling a "conclusion to the disservice and distractions caused by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio."

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said that "finally, the long, bitter and hurtful chapter of his rule in Arizona ends."

"For more than 24 years, Joe Arpaio has sowed fear in our communities and tarnished the public’s confidence in our law enforcement," said the Tucson Democrat, whose district extends to southern Maricopa County. "Today's ruling confirms what many of us have known all along; Mr. Arapio's actions as sheriff were well beyond his jurisdiction and he knowingly abused his authority for years."

Arpaio’s defense attorneys said during Arpaio’s trial before Bolton in June that he did not intentionally violate a 2011 order from Judge Snow “from detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed,” the verdict document says.

But Bolton disagreed, outlining specific examples in news releases and media interviews of Arpaio vowing to continue the practice of detaining persons suspected of being illegal and turning them over to federal immigration authorities.

In fact, the sheriff’s office took detainees that Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t accept to the nearest Border Patrol station in Casa Grande, even though they were “not suspected of any crime,” the document says.

Cronkite News reporter Chris Benincaso contributed background to this story.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Aug 26, 2017, 6:50 am
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I see no mention of the Sheriff discriminating against US citizens or legal immigrants based on race, creed, or national origin.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio tells an Oro Valley audience about battling the federal government over immigration laws in the state in 2014.

Text of the announcement of Trump's pardon of Arpaio

Today, President Donald J. Trump granted a Presidential pardon to Joe Arpaio, former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio's life and career, which began at the age of 18 when he enlisted in the military after the outbreak of the Korean War, exemplify selfless public service. After serving in the Army, Arpaio became a police officer in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, NV and later served as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), formerly the Bureau of Narcotics. After 25 years of admirable service, Arpaio went on to lead the DEA's branch in Arizona.

In 1992, the problems facing his community pulled Arpaio out of retirement to return to law enforcement. He ran and won a campaign to become Sheriff of Maricopa County. Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work of protecting the public from the scourages of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.