When he was convicted of criminal contempt in late July 2017, longtime opponents of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio thought that his chickens had finally come home to roost. Despite winning reelection as county sheriff six times and serving in that capacity for 24 years, Arpaio had long been a controversial figure not only in Arizona but on the national stage as well. Way back when Donald Trump started the so-called birther movement against President Obama, accusing him of being born outside of the U.S., Arpaio was among his most vocal supporters. As it happens, this was a smart move by the sheriff because President Trump just pardoned him for his criminal contempt conviction.
Indeed, the 85-year-old former sheriff will not see any jail time or other consequences for his actions. Although his opponents cheered when he lost his seventh bid for reelection in November 2016, they felt that losing his position was hardly a fitting consequence for all of the pain that he had caused throughout his career. Many excitedly looked forward to watching the sheriff being led into jail in shackles, but that won’t happen now that the president has pardoned him. Fortunately, groups like the Frontera Fund continue to fight against him and his policies.
Self-proclaimed as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Joe Arpaio built his career and reputation on being a hardliner about illegal immigration. Maricopa County, Arizona, has a large Latino and Hispanic population, and many of those who reside there came from Mexico and other Latino countries. Arpaio was known to do anything and everything that he could to fight back against illegal immigration, which he and his supporters blame for much of society’s woes. Unfortunately, the sheriff and his office developed a reputation for violating people’s civil rights while pursuing their aims.
After getting away with this behavior for so long, Arpaio must have felt like he was immune to facing any consequences. That started to change in December 2011, when U.S. district Court Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The judge ordered the sheriff to stop targeting Latino drivers, which is just one form of racial profiling the sheriff has been accused of over the years. The judge was very clear in his ruling, which highlighted many examples of innocent people being unfairly profiled and having their civil rights violated.
Even though Judge Snow’s order was clear, Arpaio and his office continued the profiling and other tactics over the next 18 months or longer. This prompted Judge Snow to rule in May 2013 that Arpaio and his office had engaged in racial profiling. Arpaio and his team admitted to violating the order but claimed it only happened because they misunderstood its terms. His office claimed that miscommunications and other issues caused confusion, but evidence showed that the sheriff and his team continued exactly the same after the initial ruling, so they essentially flouted it.
Despite Arpaio’s protestations of not understanding the ruling, he was convicted of criminal contempt by federal district judge Susan Bolton. Bolton was scathing in her ruling, stating that Arpaio “willfully violated the order.” She also accused the sheriff of failing to make certain that his employees obeyed the order as well. In fact, the sheriff actually ordered his employees to keep detaining Latino and Hispanic drivers. The judge’s ruling came almost a year after Arpaio lost his seventh bid for reelection, so many believed that his fortunes were finally starting to fall and that he would start facing consequences for his actions.
What many in the public don’t realize is that Arpaio’s office didn’t just unfairly target and harass Hispanic and Latino drivers. They also unabashedly fought back against those who dared to criticize them. The case regarding the Phoenix New times is a prime example. The local paper had long been calling out Arpaio and his team for their transgressions, so Arpaio already had the paper in his sights. When the paper learned that Arpaio’s allies in the county attorney’s office had issued a grand jury subpoena requesting information about the paper’s editors, writers and readers, it published an expose instead of caving in.
The story made a huge splash, but what happened next was truly incredible. On October 18, 2007, armed deputies from Arpaio’s infamous Selective Enforcement Unit showed up at the Phoenix-area homes of Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey. The two are executives with Village Voice Media, which publishes the Phoenix New Times. The men were taken away in unmarked SUVs with Mexican license plates and booked into separate jails–both of which were managed by Sheriff Arpaio. The outcry regarding these arrests was so strong and immediate that the men were released in less than a day.
There is no question about it: Larkin and Lacey were illegally detained, and their First Amendment rights were violated by Arpaio and his team. The pair then engaged in a long, protracted legal battle that resulted in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2012 that they had been arrested without probable cause. The scathing ruling noted that Arpaio and his team were “public officials ordering the immediate arrests of their critics,” which is a scary concept to say the least.
With the $3.75 million Maricopa County paid them to settle their lawsuit with Joe Arpaio, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey formed the Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund, which gives grants to migrant-rights organizations throughout Arizona. The organization works to support non-profit groups that actively support the rights of Hispanics and Latinos. Already, the fund has helped organizations assist Latinos and Hispanics who have been discriminated against by public officials and law enforcement. Now that President Trump has pardoned Arpaio–something that shouldn’t really surprise anyone given their history–it is up to organizations like the Frontera Fund to fight back against his legacy. Although Joe Arpaio won’t spend any time behind bars for his actions, the good that is done by Frontera Group should help to undo some of the damage that he has caused.
In addition to founding the Frontera Fund, Larkin and Lacey are returning to journalism with the launch of Front Page Confidential, a website that covers threats to free speech and the First Amendment.
Learn more about the Frontera Fund and how you can get involved to support migrant-rights groups here: http://www.laceyandlarkinfronterafund.org/