As a Category 4 hurricane barrelled towards Texas’ coastal cities Friday, President Donald Trump turned his attention to pardoning convicted Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt in July for illegally targeting Latinos.
Arpaio — the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” in America — disregarded a 2011 order that stopped his office from racially profiling Latinos, many of whom were detained on suspicion of their legal status. Arpaio was scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5. The 85 year old faced a maximum of six months in prison.
“Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges 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,” the White House wrote in a statement released Friday night.
Trump reportedly did not wait for the Justice Department’s process for pardons — which could require background checks, letters, and consultations under the DOJ — to push his pardon forward. A typical process to pardon a federal convict could take years, the Huffington Post reports.
The president also warned the country of his plans. On Tuesday, during an unhinged speech at a campaign in Phoenix, Trump strongly suggested that he would pardon his friend Arpaio.
“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump said. “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Trump and Arpaio’s relationship was driven by their shared interest in Barack Obama’s birth certificate; along with the president, Arpaio passionately pushed the infamous birther conspiracy that was rooted in racism and xenophobia. Last July, Arpaio spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of Trump.
The sheriff’s past is riddled with controversial and discriminatory practices, many of which led to his conviction last month.
According to the LA Times:
It was Arpaio’s roughly quarter-century as sheriff that gave him a national reputation, or notoriety, for his tough treatment of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Repeated court findings against his office for civil rights violations cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
In the early 1990s Arpaio directed construction of a tent city for detainees, open to the burning Arizona sun, both to alleviate overcrowding and to underscore his aggressive enforcement measures.
He famously made prisoners wear pink underwear and handcuffs, reinstated chain gangs for men, women and juveniles, and cut out lunches.
Many believe that a pardon could open the door for other white nationalists and law enforcement officers who may use discriminatory practices to violate the civil rights of Latinos or African Americans. As Michelle D. Bernard, CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy writes for the Huffington Post:
If Donald Trump carries out his threat to pardon Arizona’s ex-Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, he will be granting the fantasy of every wannabe law enforcement officer, rogue police officer, Nazi sympathizer, Klansman, alt-right and white-supremacist ideologue in the nation: an American police state comprising self-declared Aryan peoples.
This is a developing story.