Feature: "America's toughest sheriff" may get 6-month jail sentence

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-02 19:40:32|Editor: Song Lifang
Video PlayerClose

by Peter Mertz

DENVER, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- The luck of the draw finally ran out for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has a good reputation as "America's toughest sheriff" and a bad one as "America's Worst Sheriff."

Considered the toughest sheriff in state history since the legendary 1881 Tombstone Arizona sheriff Wyatt Earp, Arpaio defied the law, and the law won.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Monday found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court for violating a judge's order -- to stop racial profiling and detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.

A six-month prison term is expected to be announced at his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 5, although U.S. President Donald Trump may weigh in to pardon the 85-year-old crime fighter.

Arpaio was the top lawman in an area more populous than 23 states, with 4 million people, and America's fifth-largest city, Phoenix.

While serving as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, from 1993 to 2016, Arpaio earned himself a nationwide reputation for the harsh conditions in his county jail, and for his iron-fisted policy on illegal immigration -- using racial profiling and controversial "crime suppression sweeps" -- that rounded up "suspected" aliens.

But after a judge ordered him in 2011 to stop detaining people based solely on suspicion of their immigration status, he continued with the practice, insisting publicly and repeatedly that the detentions were legal, and would continue. Now, his willful violation of the court order will likely put him behind bars.

"It would only be fitting to see Joe wearing pink underwear," said Louis A. Cardona IV, a former property manager in Phoenix.

Arpaio made national headlines in 1993 when he opened the Tent City jail complex in the Arizona desert near Phoenix to imprison the people he was arresting.

The super-strict sheriff forced inmates to sleep in 70 tatty tents on the desert floor and wear pink underwear together with tight striped jumpsuits.

"He (Arpaio) was all about humiliating and dehumanizing people -- a dictator whose deputies ran around in black shiny outfits, looked like Nazis, and harassed people for no reason," Cardona told Xinhua Tuesday.

In 2003, Cardona had a first-hand experience with Arpaio's deputies in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife.

"His deputies came to our house and treated us like Third World citizens," Cardona remembered. "They told us to shut up and were rude and mean to our children."

Cardona's ex-wife, a saleswoman, ended up spending three months sleeping in a tent in the 100-degree Fahrenheit (37.7 Centigrade) Arizona desert.

Cardona was powerless to help his wife, because the court system was backed up for months with thousands of arrests.

Cardona is a second-generation immigrant from Puerto Rico. His family can be traced back to the 1740's in Spain, and his father Luis wrote a book on finding a job in New York in 1945.

"Only getting 6 months for illegally incarcerating thousands of people is a light sentence," Cardona said. "He should be locked up a lot longer."

"It is the old maximum of American law -- you are innocent until proven guilty," said retired Denver professor John Yee. "Joe Arpaio had it all backwards."

Law is the backbone of America and the foundation of what makes America the great country it is, said Yee, who taught history at the University of Denver.

Arpaio ran for his sixth term as sheriff in September 2016 and was defeated for the first time due to the bevy of allegations swirling around him.

During his 24 years as sheriff, his tough, no-nonsense approach proved popular with voters who believed prisons and jails were supposed to be merciless.

"The people who stayed in 'Sheriff Joe's Hotel' and didn't like it, then they should not have broken the law, "said Colorado excavator Kurt Blue.

Blue has no problem with forcing people who break the law to live in poor conditions.

"The rules are simple, and (Arpaio's) system was a deterrent for people who break the rules, and an incentive for people to live by the rules," said Blue, 65, a retired U.S. Navy engineer.

But many disagree with Arpaio's tactics.

In 2012, the National Council of La Raza, (NCLR) called Arpaio "America's Worst Sheriff" and called for his resignation due to extensive cases of false arrests and incarcerations.

"Profiling is what cops are trained to do," said Blue, a former law officer.

"If I see a 12-year-old person driving a car, do I pull him over? If I see a person with his eyes rolling around in his head, do I pull him over for drinking and driving?" Blue said.

"And if I see a guy who fits the profile of a drug dealer coming from Mexico, I'm not allowed to pull him over and say hello," Blue said.

"Arpaio's department deliberately targets Latinos, in violation of a lot of laws," countered NCLR spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete.

"The calls for his resignation were bipartisan and from many different communities," she said, adding that the sheriff had not done a good job "by anybody he's sworn to protect."

"It was the way we were treated by Joe's deputies that was scary and very inappropriate," said Cardona, 60, a high-level GSA building manager, who relocated to the Washington D.C. area in 2008.

Cardona told Xinhua he feared for his civil liberties living in Arpaio's Arizona, and for this reason he moved 4,000 kilometers away.

"It would be poetic justice," Cardona said with a smile, "to see Old Arpaio sleeping in a tent in the desert."

But that won't happen, as the new sheriff, Paul Penzone, has already torn down Arpaio's Tent City jail in May, and Trump will likely pardon this controversial ex-sheriff.