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Joe Arpaio

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But even if it was a concentration camp, what difference does it make? I still survived. I still kept getting re-elected.
—Joe Arpaio on 'Tent City', his prison for immigrants[1]

Joseph Michael Arpaio (1932–) is the former Republican sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who seemed to have forgotten that the sheriff's office is an agency for upholding the law, rather than a vehicle for promoting his own personal brand of hate. Few people can even name the candidates that ran against Arpaio; his "brand" recognition was astronomical. Each time his name got in the news for some new malfeasance, he won new voters; it didn't matter whether it cost the taxpayers millions. He set a new benchmark for "teflon" and could only keep dodging the fallout for so long, though; his 24-year reign of terror was broken in November 2016, when he was voted out of office. The former sheriff was pardoned by President Donald Trump on August 25, 2017.[2] So much for being "tough on crime". He has been a supporter or member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association since at least 2013.[3][4]

On January 9, 2018, Arpaio announced his intention to run for the United States Senate seat vacated by Jeff Flake,[5] but didn't even make it through the primary. That combined with losing the 2020 sheriff election seems to have marked his end as a major figure.

And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling reporters![edit]

Arpaio mananged to fight the news media in a way that you'd think El Presidente would take notes from by now.

In 2004, John Dougherty, a reporter for The New York Times, began an investigation into Arpaio's commercial real estate transactions (on the grounds that a county sheriff could accumulate enough money to invest in public property) and why the records were hidden from the public. As a result, Arpaio's home address was published, even though that's no surprise because it was already easy to find just by looking up government websites. Ironically, records of his commercial property were hidden but the location of his home wasn't. Arpaio eventually requested charges against The Times for revealing the location of his home on the far-reaching grounds that they had posted information posing a threat to an officer of the law. Since he had filed this claim ten months after all the hubbub had happened, the County Attorney's Office and the Pinal County Attorney's Office both did not prosecute, citing a lack of evidence and First Amendment implications.

Two and a half years later, still nursing a hell of a grudge, Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas eventually cooked up a scheme straight out of Scooby-Doo:Wikipedia they appointed "special prosecutor" Dennis Wilenchik to go after the paper, issuing grand jury subpoenas for the notes, records, and sources of the paper's editors and reporters for all their Arpaio-related coverage, even down to the IP addresses of people who read these stories. Superior Court Judge Anna Baca chided Wilenchik for trying to arrange a secret meeting with her about the case to begin with. Later, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, reporters for The New York Times, wrote a story about "breathtaking abuse of the Constitution", prompting Arpaio to sic his deputies to arrest them in the dead of night on charges of violating grand jury secrecy, which might sound like heavy charges but are actually misdemeanor violations, especially not enough to warrant an attack on someone's homes when they're sound asleep. Judge Baca dismissed Wilenchik's grand jury subpoenas, saying they had been obtained without the approval of a grand jury or the court. Lacey and Larkin would later sue Arpaio and Wilenchik, leading to a $3.75 million settlement reward to the reporters for the false arrests.[6]

Illegal immigration[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Illegal immigration

Arpaio has taken a very hard line against illegal immigration; so hard, in fact, that he declined to hand illegal immigrants over to federal authorities for deportation in lieu of a stint in jail, and the sheriff's office was so busy trying to hunt illegal immigrants that it had little time for anything else.[7] The end result of all of this was that the Justice Department filed a civil suit against Arpaio in Federal court in May 2012, due to multiple civil rights violations primarily aimed at the Latino population of Maricopa County.[8]

Civil rights violations[edit]

Arpaio, like a large number of Republicans, talks a good talk on cost-cutting. Unlike most of the prominent politicians in his party, however, he has actually cut some costs. For example, he has cut food costs in the jails of Maricopa County by starving jail inmates, cut building costs by jailing people in tents often 100°F,[9] and has cut maintenance costs by letting the jails rot. Unfortunately, these cost-cutting measures have been more than offset by the massive number of lawsuits filed against the sheriff's office, resulting in more than $43 million paid out in settlements.[10]

In 2008, a federal court ruled that conditions in the jails were unconstitutionally harsh.[11] Arpaio, perhaps preoccupied with his fledgling clothing-design career,[12] did not seem to get the memo; two years later, another ruling held that conditions had not changed and ordered him to get off his keister.[13] Yet somehow, he kept getting chosen as sheriff.

Fake assassination attempt[edit]

From 2004 to 2009, Maricopa County paid $14.5 million in claims regarding the sheriff's office and another $6.4 million for claims against the jail health service for failure to diagnose, deliberate indifference, and suicides.[14] The most outrageous one was a false arrest for a fake assassination attempt designed to boost Arpaio's re-election bid. In 1999, undercover deputies arrested 18-year old James Saville for plotting to kill Arpaio with a pipe bomb. On July 9, 2003, a Maricopa County jury acquitted Saville, finding that the bomb plot was an elaborate publicity stunt to boost Arpaio's reelection bid.[15] In 2004, Saville sued both Arpaio and Maricopa County for wrongful arrest and entrapment, seeking $10 million in damages. In 2008, the suit was settled by Maricopa County paying Saville $1.6 million.[16][17][14]

Using public office for self-promotion[edit]

Arpaio used the sheriff's office, including its official communication organs, as self-promotion tools, including but not limited to the publication of his political differences with the federal government[18] and his opinions on Arizona political happenings.[19]

Sometime in the 1990s, the underwear given to inmates in Maricopa County jails was dyed pink to prevent inmates from walking off with it. Arpaio used this as a pretext to brag about how well he has served his constituents.[20] In 1995, he also began to sell this pink underwear as a souvenir item through an outfit called the Posse Foundation with funding from the sheriff's office; there were allegations that the money thus received was being mishandled.[12] Unfortunately for Arpaio, use of the pink underwear in prisons came under scrutiny by an appellate court.[21][22]

In 2007, Arpaio set up a radio station called KJOE in the basement of one of the jails, broadcasting operas, patriotic songs, and educational programming.[23] This makes one wonder precisely what his position is on certain other taxpayer-funded radio stations with similar programming.

Sexual assault cases? What sexual assault cases?[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Rape

While Big Joe was busy rounding up his posse of Mexican hunters and pot busters, he may have chanced to overlook over 400 sexual assault cases, most of which involved children.[24] Either these cases slipped under his nose while he was busy being a hero-cum-underwear vendor to all right-thinking people in Arizona, or he deliberately turned a blind eye since many of the victims' parents were in the country illegally. These revelations provoked calls for him to resign.[25]


See the main article on this topic: Obama citizenship denial

In 2012, Sheriff Arpaio took up the cause of birtherism, arguing that President Obama's birth certificate and selective service (draft) registration card were fake. His volunteer "Cold Case Posse", in conjunction with Jerome Corsi, conducted an "investigation" and held an excruciatingly-long press conference in March 2012 to announce their findings; the documents were fraudulent and Obama was probably born abroad and was not eligible to be President. Their evidence was heavily dependent on the idea that the birth certificate's electronic form, as released online by the White House, differed from a "control" sample certificate they scanned themselves.

The day before Sheriff Joe's "Cold Case Posse" released their report, lead investigator Michael Zullo published a book on the topic, co-authored by a helpful Jerome Corsi.[26]

Not content with hosting one excruciating dog-and-pony show on the subject, Arpaio and Zullo took a second stab at the same comedy-ready material in July 2012, adding some extra spice to the mix by insisting that sooper sekrit codes were hidden in the birth certificate and that some very old person (apparently not present at the press conference; go figure) could figure out what those codes actually meant. Not content to leave it at that, Arpaio and Zullo also asserted that black helicopters Hawaiian police were following Zullo around in an effort to harass him during his "investigation".[27] Mind you, none of this has anything to do with the civil lawsuit being filed against Arpaio at all.[28]

In December 2016, Arpaio and Zullo promised that an Obama birth certificate "bombshell" would be revealed at an upcoming press event. Perhaps responding to the public's recently demonstrated attraction to crazy shit, many TV stations streamed the press conference live. Hapless viewers were treated to a snoozy video presentation that plodded through the birth certificate's supposed "9 points of forgery" with lots of scientific-sounding jargon, and Arpaio crankily blaming the mainstream media for ignoring his past investigations.[29]

School protection posse[edit]

In early 2013, after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sheriff Arpaio announced he would form an all-volunteer posse of "well trained", gun-carrying patrols to drive around town and protect the schools. Not one school has ever requested such services, of course, and many schools and parents were outraged at the use of volunteered and virtually untrained men "protecting" the schools. In February 2013, it was discovered that his posse included at least one convicted child molester and several men convicted of domestic abuse. The training for the team was given by actor Steven Seagal, who defended himself by saying, "I’ve put hundreds of thousands if not millions of hours into my weapons training".[30][note 1]

Ersatz cultural criticism[edit]

Arpaio also challenged comedian George Lopez to "meet [him] face to face" after he took offense to some of Lopez's material about him that aired on HBO in July 2012. He was also supposedly shocked by the naughty, naughty words that Lopez used during the monologue, as well, even before the fact became apparent that Lopez was talking about Arpaio at the time. Yeah. Sure.[31]


On November 8, 2016, Arpaio was voted out of office as county voters chose Democratic challenger Paul Penzone. Most of the voters who said "no" to Arpaio's bid were moderate Republicans.[32] Penzone succeeded Arpaio as Maricopa County Sheriff on January 7, 2017.[33]

Many employees of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, civilian and in uniform, were happy, too. Many felt Arpaio was focusing too much on his political career, and others were angry about the staffing shortage at the county jail; dwindling resources thanks to mounting legal bills from the racial-profiling lawsuit; and many were just plain ashamed of where they worked.[34]

Not Done Yet[edit]

There once was a sheriff named Joe
Whose pink panties made everyone say, "Aiyo!"
His campaign stump
Gave Donald Trump
A hardon for a pardon; oh no!
By pardoning Joe Arpaio, Donald Trump has sent another disturbing signal to an emboldened white nationalist movement that this White House supports racism and bigotry.
American Civil Liberties Union, 25 August 2017.[35][2]

Because the concept of wingnut welfare is still very much alive and well in America, Arpaio had been considered for Trump's cabinet as Secretary of Homeland Security. Thankfully, Trump had the good sense not to appoint him.

What Trump did do, however, was pardon Arpaio for his conviction for criminal contempt of court on August 25, 2017.[2] Arpaio took the opportunity to appeal for donations towards his legal fund and to declare his conviction was "a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!" Meanwhile, several politicians, even including Republicans such as Paul Ryan, law professors, and political scientists, described Trump's move as rather troubling in its implications and ramifications, while some outright declared it a move that only serves to undermine the rule of law.

In January 2018, Arpaio announced he would be running for the US Senate seat to be vacated by Jeff Flake in the 2018 midterm election. While Trump's influence may have aided Arpaio in his campaign, his chances were slim when one remembered the last time a far-right authoritarian windbag tried to run for Senate. While Arpaio probably isn't a child molester, he still had no shortage of controversies for his opponents to use as ammunition. This bid would fail though with him finishing a distant third in the Republican primary to two women.[36]

On August 25, 2019, Arpaio issued a statement saying that he would run for sheriff of Maricopa County in 2020. However, he ultimately ended up being defeated in the Republican primary by his former subordinate, Jerry Sheridan, who ran on a platform of Arpaio's policies. Sheridan lost the election in November to the incumbent Paul Penzone.[37]

In 2022, Arpaio attempted yet another comeback, this time by running for mayor of Fountain Hills, an affluent suburb of Phoenix. But third time would not be the charm either, as he was defeated in the election by the two-term incumbent Ginny Dickey. In true Trumpian-style, Arpaio's immediate reaction to this defeat was declaring that he refused to concede the race and that he was going to consult with an attorney to explore whether to he could legally challenge the results.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. For the record, 100,000 hours is 11.41 years of 24-hour days.


  1. Fernandez, Valeria"Arizona’s ‘concentration camp’: why was Tent City kept open for 24 years?", The Guardian
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Julia Carrie Wong and Lauren Gambino, Donald Trump pardons Joe Arpaio, former sheriff convicted in racial profiling case. The Guardian, 25 August 2017.
  3. Profiles on the Right: Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (November 22, 2013) Political Research Associates.
  4. The Troubling Sheriffs’ Movement That Joe Arpaio Supports: Trump's pardon didn't just let off a campaign ally. It endorsed a growing push to exempt sheriffs from any federal authority. by Robert L. Tsai (September 01, 2017) Politico.
  5. Bradner, Eric, "Joe Arpaio, controversial sheriff pardoned by Trump, enters Arizona Senate race", CNN
  6. Joe Arpaio Loses: New Times Co-Founders Win $3.75 Million Settlement for 2007 False Arrests Phoenix New Times, Matthew Hendley, December 20 2013, 2:46 PM.
  7. Paul Giblin, Reasonable Doubt: A look into Arpaio’s immigration campaign. East Valley Tribune, 8 July 2008.
  8. Department of Justice Files Lawsuit in Arizona Against Maricopa County, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio. United States Department of Justice, 10 May 2012.
  9. AWOL Soldiers Serving Sentences At Tent City
  10. Special Report: Health and death behind bars
  11. JJ Hensley and Lindsey Collom, Judge backs county inmates in jail case. Archived from, 23 October 2008.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Tony Ortega, Underwear Under Scrutiny. Phoenix New Times, 13 May 1999.
  13. JJ Hensley, Judge: County failed to improve jails' medical, mental-health conditions. Archived from, 8 April 2010.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Claims vs. county cost taxpayers $71 mil". May 23, 2010. Retrieved Aug 26, 2017. 
  15. Bommersbach, Jana. Will Sheriff Joe Stop at Nothing? PHOENIX Magazine, February 2005.
  16. Dickerson, John (October 28, 2008). "A Phony Murder Plot Against Joe Arpaio Winds Up Costing Taxpayers $1.1 Million". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved Aug 26, 2017. 
  17. Dougherty, John (June 24, 2004). "In the Crosshairs". Retrieved Aug 26, 2017. 
  18. Arpaio Concerned About Federal News Release at the Wayback Machine (archived December 29, 2010)
  19. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies Sieze [sic] 500 Pounds of Marijuana During Human Smuggling Illegal Alien Investigation at the Wayback Machine (archived December 29, 2010)
  20. Laundry Services at the Wayback Machine (archived December 29, 2010)
  21. Ian Millhiser, Reagan-Appointed Appeals Judge Suggests Sheriff Arpaio’s Pink Underwear Is Unconstitutional. Archived from, 9 March 2012.
  22. Wagner vs. County of Maricopa, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 7 March 2012.
  23. Arpaio Launches KJOE Radio. Archived from, 5 February 2007.
  24. Marc Lacey, Arpaio Is Criticized Over Handling of Sex-Crimes Cases. The New York Times, 9 December 2011.
  25. Ashley Powers, Sex-crime cases prompt calls for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio quit. Los Angeles Times, 13 December 2011.
  26. Jerome Corsi and Michael Zullo, A Question of Eligibility: A Law Enforcement Investigation into Barack Obama's Birth Certificate and His Eligibility to be President. Paperless Publishing LLC, 29 February 2012.
  27. Nick R. Martin, Joe Arpaio’s Birther Obsession Just Keeps Getting Stranger. Archived from Talking Points Memo, 19 July 2012.
  28. Casey Wian and Michael Martinez, Arizona sheriff faces civil trial in alleged targeting of Latinos. CNN, 20 July 2012.
  29. On the heels of electoral defeat, Sheriff Joe Arpaio attempts to revive debate over Obama's birth certificate Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2016
  30. Katie McDonough, Joe Arpaio hired a child-sex offender for armed “posse”. Salon, 13 February 2013.
  31. Rene Lynch, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio dares George Lopez: Say it to my face. Los Angeles Times, 17 July 2012.
  32. Evan Wyloge, Republicans, not Latinos, doomed Arpaio at the polls. Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, 23 December 2016.
  33. Michael Kiefer, and Rebekah L. Sanders, Maricopa County voters oust Sheriff Joe Arpaio, elect Paul Penzone., 8 November 2016.
  34. Megan Cassidy, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office employees react to Joe Arpaio's defeat., 9 November 2016.
  35. ACLU on Twitter, 26 August 2017.
  36. Arizona Primary Election Results, The New York Times, 30 August 2018.
  37. Jennifer Martinez, Jerry Sheridan talks upcoming Maricopa County Sheriff race against Paul Penzone. Fox 10 Phoenix, 7 August 2020.