Mimesis Law
6 March 2021

Sheriff Joe Arpaio To Finally Learn A Lesson?

October 14, 2016 (Fault Lines) –  Joe Arpaio has been the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona since 1993. He’s proven extremely electable,[1] age 80 when he won his last term—he’s 84 now, well past the age that anyone should be in law enforcement.

He’s always done things his own way, and is known for ignoring anyone who disagreed with him. That included judges. But in my experience, the last person you want to piss off is a federal judge. You especially don’t want to piss off a federal judge who can have you held in contempt of court.

So while he’s been the darling of the reactionary right, those who value civil rights have closely watched him and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). And now, to the horror of all of the officers over at PoliceOne, the feds are going to file criminal contempt charges against Sheriff Joe.

You see, in 2011 the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona told Arpaio that the sheriff’s efforts to round up illegal aliens was unlawful, and granted an injunction that prohibited Arpaio and his deputies from continuing his “sweeps” and “saturation patrols” that targeted Hispanic and Latino individuals.[2] In 2013, Judge G. Murray Snow made the injunction permanent and finding the authority of the MCSO to enforce immigration law had been withdrawn by the federal government. The court had made it clear that the mere presence in United States without authority was not a crime, without other facts.

Sheriff Joe didn’t like that, so he made up his own immigration enforcement program, called “LEAR”[3] and continued to “enforce” laws that weren’t laws, weren’t crimes, and were directed against a single population. By arresting people who were merely suspected of being in the country illegally, but had committed no state crime, Arpaio violated the rights of both citizens and non-citizens.

By March, 2015, Arpaio admitted that he had violated the federal court order. So Judge Snow found Arpaio and some of his staff in civil contempt. The judge stated in the 162‑page order that:

[T]he Court finds that the Defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the Plaintiff class and the protection of its rights. . .

Then he dropped the bombshell—he referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for possible prosecution for criminal contempt of court. You see, until that happened, nothing personally affected Arpaio. The county had to pay all of the civil penalties, and the cost had run about $50 million during the course of the case and the appeals.

Well now the USAO announced that they would be filing misdemeanor criminal contempt charges against Sheriff Joe. His attorneys say he will be exonerated. I somehow doubt that. If this doesn’t work, the USAO has said it is still “considering” more serious charges of Obstruction of Justice.[4]

I think that they should go after the more serious charges, although I can understand their hesitation. Sheriff Joe has run roughshod over his political opponents for decades. He’s conducted retaliatory investigations, he’s entrapped people to boost his popularity, he’s put people in tents, had them wear pink underwear, and has fed the prisoners moldy baloney sandwiches. He’s got a huge PR department that’s sole job is to make him look good.

Back in the old days, Teddy Roosevelt was the Police Commissioner of New York City. He learned a respect for law and order that lasted all of his life. So when he gave his third State of the Union address, he said something that is appropriate here.

No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.

Joe, when a judge tells you not to do something because it is illegal, you are bound by your oath to obey the order unless you can get a higher court to overrule his decision. You don’t get to blow him off and do what you want to do. You are required to obey the law, and if you don’t, we, the public, are going to see to it that you are held accountable.


For a photo op, Crazy Joe wearing the orange jumpsuit of a federal prisoner rather than the pink underwear he requires of Maricopa County prisoners.

Do you think that you’ll do well in an orange jumpsuit? Eating a baloney sandwich? It won’t be for a photo op this time.

[1] Although that may not continue. His Democratic opponent, Paul Penzone, leads in the polls by 10 points less than a month before the election.

[2] Affirmed by Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2012).

[3] Although I’m sure LEAR is an acronym for something cute, I could not find it with a quick Google search, and it just wasn’t worth more of my time. Feel free to look for yourself and let us know if you find it.

[4] If convicted of obstruction, Arpaio would be a convicted felon, ineligible to hold office, and subject to 15 to 37 months in prison.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Conrad
    14 October 2016 at 12:57 pm - Reply
    • Greg Prickett
      14 October 2016 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks Conrad.

  • Peary Brown
    15 October 2016 at 7:18 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article. The other important issue is Joe is not a police officer and there is differences in laws and rules related to arrests that a sheriff and his deputies can and can not do. All of which go to training and state policies. More importantly the state has allowed this to continue. He could’ve been fired years ago, but Gov. Ducey has allowed him to break the law, as many others in Maricopa Cty.

    • Greg Prickett
      15 October 2016 at 11:56 am - Reply

      Arpaio does have a law enforcement background. He was a police officer in Washington, DC and Las Vegas, NV. He was a DEA agent for 25 years.

      You also should be aware that as an elected official, Arpaio can’t just be fired. Two or three recall elections failed, and he’s been re-elected seven times.