Trump’s Arpaio pardon raises several questions. The most important ones for once have easy answers, and have been covered elsewhere.
Was Arpaio guilty? Of course he was. He not only admitted to willfully violating court orders, he openly bragged about it, including to the press.
Should the law he broke have been a law at all? Yep. He continued to detain people for whom no charges could be filed, and broke the fourth amendment repeatedly by searching without probable cause.
Did Trump have the power to pardon him? Yes, and the Presidential power of the pardon isn’t limited by much. It has to relate to offenses against the United States, they can’t directly affect an impeachment process, and they can’t be given before the crime is committed. None of these apply to Arpaio.
Should he have been pardoned?
Presidential pardons are often done in reality for a string of bad reasons. But they are generally crouched in one of two excuses, or for two arguably good reasons.
One, it’s done if the underlying public policy criminalizing the action is misguided or the sentence was significantly harsh… think non-violent drug offenses and minimum sentencing guidelines that didn’t take individual considerations into account. But, of course, Arpaio was violating the fourth amendment and conducting false imprisonment of those he would or could not charge, and he hadn’t even been sentenced yet.
Two, it’s done to grant mercy. In this case, it’s generally done after some time has been served, after those to be pardoned have expressed remorse for their crimes, and after their character has been shown to be commendable. Arpaio has served no time, received no punishment, expresses no such remorse, and his character is quite clear from decades of words and deeds.
His past conduct and actions prior to what he was charged with shouldn’t matter from a legal sense, and would be inadmissible in court. However, pardons are about as much a matter of law in the judicial sense as impeachment proceedings–in that they are governed more by politics than blind application of standard rules. His character matters, and shows what type of person Trump feels deserving of a pardon.
And the record is clear. If the following timeline is tl;dr, it’s primarily because there is simply too much public information available highlighting how much of an asshole he is. He is, essentially, the alt-right’s version of FDR. The following is a timeline of Arpaio being an asshole even before he suddenly cared about immigration in 2005, where most of the coverage of him has focused:
In 1957, he was a police officer in Vegas for about six months, his first experience in local law enforcement. However, he quickly moved to a more nationalized law enforcement agency. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was the precursor to the DEA, so his involvement made him an O.G. drug warrior. He stayed with the agency for the next twenty-five years, eventually becoming head of the DEA’s Arizona branch.
In 1982, he left the agency, working for a time with his wife’s company Starworld Travel Agency in Scottsdale. In 1988, he booked the first 19 flights for the Phoenix E rocket, set to take off on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the new world.
In 1992, the anniversary came. The rocket never took off, and never would. However, 1992 saw his election ushering in his rule as Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. He would hold the position for the next 24 years, roughly mirroring his time at the DEA. This was the first time that he held the kind of public power he’d become known for abusing, and this is when his character really began to show.
In 1993, his very first year as sheriff, he set up Tent City, which Arpaio himself describes as a concentration camp. It would live up to it’s reputation of inhumane conditions for prisoners for the following decades, some of whom were not yet even convicted of crimes.
In 1995, he re-instituted chain gangs to work in the Arizona heat. Of course, this wasn’t enough. The next year, he expanded the program to females, and then broke a world record by instituting the world’s first ever all-juvenile chain gang. Such work did count as credit towards high school diplomas, however.
1996 saw more than his expansion to females and children, though. It also saw the death of Scott Norberg, an inmate who died in custody of the Sheriff’s office. Norberg was handcuffed, face-down, when officers dragged him from his cell and into a restraint chair with a towel covering his face, then shocked him several times with a stun-gun. After his corpse was investigated, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner said his death was due to “positional asphyxia”. Sheriff Arpaio “investigated” his own department and (gasp!) found no wrong-doing.
Norberg’s parents sued, and the county was forced to settle for over $8 million dollars.
Also in 1996, Richard Post found himself in Arpaio’s custody for possession of pot and criminal trespass. He, too, was plopped in a restraint chair by guards, and his neck was broken in the process. Reportedly, the video shows guards smiling and laughing while the injury occurred. Thankfully, he survived, though he lost much of the use of his arms. This time, the county was able to settle the claims made against the Sheriff’s office for only $800,000 of taxpayer money rather than $8 million.
In 1997, an Amnesty International report said Tent City wasn’t “adequate or humane“, understating an assessment about a facility known for serving moldy food, degrading clothing, and mixing the convicted and the accused outside, behind barbed wire and in the middle of the desert. Punishments included loss of “food privileges” by cutting out meals and limiting them to bread and water.
In 1998, Arpaio attempted to push back by making the argument that such horrid conditions lowered recidivism rates, under the rationale that criminals would be terrified of returning and that the ends justified the means. He was so convinced of the deterrence effect of brutality that he commissioned a study by a Arizona State University criminal justice Professor named Marie L. Griffin.
It didn’t quite go the way he’d hoped. Comparing recidivism rates before and after Arpaio took over, it was found that “there was no significant difference”.
The next year of 1999 saw an “assassination attempt” on Arpaio’s life while he was running for reelection. I’m not sure how surprising it really is that someone would attempt to take justice into their own hands given the legal system merely paying off victims with taxpayer money to drop their suits, but it wasn’t exactly real. It appears to have been a case of entrapment, as Arpaio’s deputies bought the bomb parts, and convinced a teenager to follow through on combining them, despite the fact that he didn’t appear to be predisposed to commit such a crime.
In July 2000, the Sheriff’s website hosted “Jail Cam“, a 24-hour a day webcast from cameras at Madison Street Jail. It was meant, once again, to deter future crime through applying fear. These weren’t even convicted criminals broadcast, however, as the facility housed pretrial detainees. Eventually, former detainees brought suit against Arpaio claiming their rights of due process had been violated.
In August 2001, Charles Agster, a mentally handicapped prisoner brought in for not leaving a convenience store, also died in a restraint chair while wearing a spit-hood. The lawsuit this time resulted in a $9 million dollar verdict against the county, the sheriff’s office, and correctional health services.
March 7th, 2003, Brian Crenshaw, a legally blind and mentally disabled inmate, was beaten to death by guards in Maricopa County Jail where he was being held for the crime of shoplifting. This time, when the family sued Arpaio, they got an award of $2 million. Just like the Norberg case, it seems as though Arpaio destroyed evidence, this time the digital video of the incident.
On July 3rd, 2003, the bombing suspect in Arpaio’s “assassination attempt” was acquitted, and the jury found that “the bomb plot was an elaborate publicity stunt to boost Arpaio’s reelection bid“.
That summer, inmates of the outdoor Tent City complained about the heat. Outside temperatures exceeded 110 degrees, and temperatures in some tents clocked in at 145 degrees. Inmates shoes literally melted in the desert heat, and medical emergencies related to the temperature were common and often severe. Arpaio went down to Tent City to address the complaints personally. His statement was as follows– “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.” However, given the heat, he did give the inmates permission to wear nothing but pink underwear.
In 2004, he began using a facility called The Maricopa County Southeast Jail Facility. It appears that it’s purpose was as an alternative to Tent City for celebrities and friends of Arpaio, full of amenities and nicknamed the “Mesa Hilton“. It’s where people like Adam Stoddard, a Deputy of Arpaio’s who did time for contempt of court after stealing confidential documents from an attorney’s file would spend their time, out of the sun.
This year Saville, the “would be assassin”, sued Arpaio for wrongful arrest and entrapment.
On July 23rd, 2004, a SWAT team assaulted a home that they suspected of having “a stockpile of illegal automatic weapons and armor-piercing pistol ammunition”. Multiple tear gas cartridges were fired into the home, setting it on fire. SWAT used a fire extinguisher to push a 10-month old puppy back into the burning building, where it died (reportedly while laughing), and ran over a neighbor’s vehicle by accident with a tank. The only guns found were an antique shotgun and a 9mm pistol, both legally owned. They were, however, able to give an arrest warrant to the owner, who was wanted on a misdemeanor for traffic citations.
In 2005, the Arizona legislature passed what became known as the “Coyote law“, which allowed local officers to police what is primarily federal law. Arpaio, based on how his department reacted, was ecstatic about the possibilities. He became known for his department’s tactics in addressing illegal immigration, which were consistently struck down as unconstitutional by the courts for a variety of reasons, many involving violations of the fourth amendment.
The case that originally lead to an injunction against him began in 2007, when a Mexican tourist was detained unlawfully for nine hours as a result of what the court determined was racial profiling. The lawsuit expanded as others joined in with similar complaints. However, leading up to this point saw many lawsuits predating Melendres v. Arpaio on a variety of charges. Between 2004 and November 2007, Arpaio was the target of 2,150 lawsuits in U.S. District Court, hundreds in Maricopa County courts, with more than $50 million in claims being filed. Most were related to prison-condition lawsuits, of which he had more on his own than New York City, L.A., Chicago, and Houston jail systems… combined.
Since then, Arpaio-critical politicians, journalists, and leaders have accused him of false arrests, harassment, unwarranted surveillance, and a host of other pressure tactics to settle political vendettas and silence criticism. He’s been the subject of investigations by the FBI, the DOJ, and even the Department of Homeland Security has removed his authority to make immigration arrests.
He’s responded by refusing to comply with investigations, forming a posse to carry out activities the courts had told him to desist, conducted criminal investigations of nearly every political opponent and sometimes their wives, and bragged about non-compliance with court orders. The DOJ has had to file suit to compel the Sheriff department’s cooperation in an investigation, a national first.
He’s abused public funds for personal pleasure and gain, refused to investigate crimes alleged to have been committed by his department, and worked on what he felt was important, like proving that Obama’s birth certificate was forged.
Given this timeline, which hasn’t even included some more recent allegations and intentionally left out much about the case he was actually pardoned for, is crystal clear about his character. He is an authoritarian who has abused his power, and violated the constitution (at very least the fourth amendment and the eighth). Arpaio seems to see no contradiction in systematically breaking the law in order to enforce the law, while wrapping himself in the flag of “law and order”. He just means, apparently… that the law should apply harshly to those that aren’t more like him, and that justice should be blind to the means if the ends are alt-right approved or the suspects happen to be white and wear the color blue.
He is exactly the kind of strongman that Trump respects. This… is the kind of man that Trump chose to use his first Presidential pardon on. When the left gives an oversimplified and inaccurate version of what a conservative is? When they describe a straw-man caricature of what they believe the right is, totally off-base from the average Republican voter or politician? They are thinking specifically of Joe Arpaio, or someone just like him. He is the encapsulation of FDR in an alt-right shell.
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