Ed. Note: Like the old Fault Lines days, Chris Seaton and Mario Machado will duke it out over whether the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was the worst pardon ever. This is Chris’ argument.
Maricopa County, Arizona put their trust in a man named Joe Arpaio back in 1993. They gave him a badge, a gun, the state-sanctioned license to kill and an entire Sheriff’s department. A man tasked with upholding the law would then repeatedly violate the law and abuse the power of his office for twenty-four years. Pardoning “Crazy” Joe Arpaio, the self-styled “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” is undoubtedly the worst pardon in Presidential history.
Let’s look at the offense Arpaio committed: criminal contempt of court. At face value, it seems harmless compared to other offenses wiped clean by presidential pardon. Arpaio defied a federal judge’s order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants. That’s a far cry from jury tampering, robbing a bank or tax fraud. Contempt is the mechanism by which the courts enforce their orders. Essentially, a judge told an old man to not do something, and the old man said “no.”
What makes Arpaio’s defiance so odious is his insistence on enforcing a certain aspect of Arizona’s human-smuggling law. Specifically, this section of the law:
E. Notwithstanding any other law, in the enforcement of this section a peace officer may lawfully stop any person who is operating a motor vehicle if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the person is in violation of any civil traffic law.
Arpaio took that to mean, “if you see someone in violation of a traffic law, and have reasonable suspicion to think they might be smuggling humans, you can stop them and detain them until they prove you wrong.” Unfortunately for the Latino population of Maricopa County, if you weren’t white there was a good chance a cop might stop you and hold you until you could prove your status as either a documented immigrant or US citizen.
Crazy Joe’s subordinates took their new status as deputy ICE agents and ran with it until Judge Murray Snow told them to stop. It would take more than “reasonable suspicion” to detain someone whose skin color wasn’t white while Maricopa County deputies played a game of “papers, please” with a vehicle’s occupants. The entire drama could have ended back in 2011 if Crazy Joe and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department remembered that court orders weren’t polite suggestions.
Unfortunately, Crazy doubled down on crazy, and Maricopa County continued with their practice of what was termed “immigration sweeps” for another six years. It took the intervention of U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to halt the practice and hold the man at the center of the controversy accountable. Quoting from Joe Arpaio’s own remarks, she found him guilty of criminal contempt. The rampant Fourth Amendment violations would cease, and it wouldn’t be “business as usual” in Maricopa County anymore.
Pardoning Joe Arpaio sends a message to every cop that it’s okay to defy the orders of a judge. It tells the men and women out there with a badge and malevolent intent that as long as they play the “tough on crime” approach, they will be free from public condemnation. After all, if “America’s Toughest Sheriff” can get away with openly defying a federal judge’s orders, what’s stopping your average beat cop from doing the same thing?
Back in 2012, Arpaio put together a document for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department that contained a code of ethics all Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department employees were to abide by. The wording of that Code is important, as it applies to Joe Arpaio when he was still a Sheriff, and still holding the reins of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office.
As an employee of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, I pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Arizona, to obey the laws of the State and the United States, and the rules, regulations, and Policies of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. I will never abuse the authority vested in me, and will honor and uphold the constitutional rights to liberty, equality, and justice afforded to all persons. I will be honest in thought and deed, in both my personal and official life, and will not allow my conduct to bring discredit, dishonor, or shame upon the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. I will never misrepresent myself, be untruthful, or take what does not belong to me, nor will I tolerate conduct on the part of any other employee of the Office, which violates the principles of this Code of Ethics. (Emphasis added).
Note the bolded passages. Arpaio and his flunkies routinely violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Maricopa County’s Latino community. He blatantly disregarded the law when Judge Snow spelled it out for him in 2011. Selling autographed pink boxer shorts is a pretty bad abuse of authority, and telling people whose skin color is different from his that they don’t get the same rights as others is as far as it gets from upholding the rights to liberty, equality and justice afforded to all persons.
Arpaio’s pardon isn’t just the worst possible in Presidential history. It’s a slap in the face to the concepts of law and order as we know them and hold dear.