In the face of growing public scrutiny and a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has fired back against his critics, saying “I’m not a bully with a gun.”
The five-term Phoenix-area sheriff is known for cracking down on illegal immigration. But in its lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged the Arpaio’s tactics go too far, calling them “unconstitutional” and part of a “pattern of discrimination” against Latinos.
The suit, which was filed last Thursday, accuses Arpaio and his deputies of raiding homes, offices and business based on the occupants’ broken English or appearance.
Racial profiling during traffic stops was also a problem. According to DOJ’s claims, Latino drivers were five to nine times more likely than other residents to be the subject of a search.
“At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
Sheriff Joe flat out dismissed the allegations, arguing that he just wants to enforce the law.
“They want to take over my office, for political reasons,” Arpaio told CNN, saying he had “compassion” for Latinos, but that enforcing the law was of paramount importance.
“I’m not worried. I’m not gonna let the federal government run my office. I’m the elected constitutional sheriff, I report to the people, 4 million in this county.”
However, some say that this lawsuit might be the beginning of the end for Sheriff Joe, that his days in office are numbered.
One of his opponents in the upcoming November election, Paul Penzone, a former Phoenix police officer who served on a special Drug Enforcement Administration task force, saw a spike in his online campaign contributions following news of the DOJ’s lawsuit.
According to Penzone’s spokeswoman, Stacy Pearson, the campaign has already raised more than $100,000 in funds, an important milestone because the last challenger to take on Arpaio, in 2008, raised $160,000 over the entire contest.
“I think that between Penzone’s history of fair and sane law enforcement and the fact that I think that the vast majority of voters are simply tired, just embarrassed by being a national joke, a symbol of crazy, Arpaio is vulnerable,” Pearson told the Huffington Post.
But Arpaio doesn’t seem himself as vulnerable, maybe just a victim of “doing what’s right.”
“I’m a professional. 50-year law enforcement officer. That’s my response to those critics that want to get rid of me and try to force me to resign,” Arpaio said at a press conference.
As for the November election, Lisa Allen, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department told the Huffington Post, “Sheriff Arpaio is not at all concerned about his reputation or his reelection prospects.”
“He is absolutely certain that he will be reelected in November and is proud to be the sheriff of Maricopa County and feels his office is doing a very fine job despite the kind of accusations, unfounded as they are, the Justice Department is making against this office,” she added.
Not knowing all the facts, it’s difficult for me to make a judgment call. But for those of you who are more familiar with the situation in Maricopa, do you support Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
Image credit to Gage Skidmore via Flickr Commons