He enjoys his reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff,” but Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County is also one of the most investigated law enforcement officials in the U.S. According to a local TV station in Phoenix, which is the county seat as well as Arizona’s capital, the FBI is probing allegations that Arpaio used his position to settle vendettas against anyone who challenged his authority.
One case involves County Supervisor Don Stapley, indicted on 118 charges of violating campaign finance laws last December. In September, three days after prosecutors requested the last of those charges be dropped, Arpaio had Stapley arrested again. The reason? According to defence lawyer Paul Charlton, Stapley “opposed the sheriff’s budget. When you cross this guy for legitimate reasons, you’re going to find yourself under criminal investigation for completely illegitimate reasons.”
The FBI probe comes on top of a Justice Department investigation over allegations of illegal searches and seizures in the Phoenix area, and discrimination during sweeps for illegal immigrants. And that’s not all: recently, a defence lawyer complained that, while her back was turned in court, two officers rifled through her privileged legal documents and even managed to photocopy some pages. The sheriff’s office insisted that the men, who were caught on video, were examining the papers for contraband.
While popular locally—he was re-elected for the fifth time last year—Arpaio has suffered a series of defeats at the federal level. Last year a federal judge ordered changes to county jails after ruling that pre-trial inmates received poor food and inadequate medical treatment. And in October, after complaints that he was systematically violating the rights of the Hispanic community, the Obama administration sharply limited Arpaio’s ability to detain suspected illegal migrants.