Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose unconstitutional racial profiling tactics got him convicted of a federal crime, has been given a presidential pardon by his political ally, Donald Trump.
The pardon — rumored for weeks and really no surprise — is being widely viewed as political payback to a “constitutional-style” sheriff who was an early, outspoken Trump supporter.
Arpaio spoke at last year’s GOP convention and backed Trump’s anti-immigrant hard-line views and his controversial plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Years earlier, the two were joined at the hip in spreading the totally false “birther” myth that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Trump’s pardon of Arpaio came late last Friday in what may have been an attempt to bury that headline on a weekend when Hurricane Harvey was barreling down on Texas, threatening lives and property. Tucked into the same after-hours mix was the departure of controversial presidential advisor Sebastian Gorka, who, like Arpaio, is known for his anti-immigrant stripes.
Arpaio was charged last October in U.S. District Court in Arizona with criminal contempt-of-court for ignoring a federal judge's order in a long-simmering racial-profiling case. Days later, he lost his re-election bid after serving 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County.
The criminal charge stemmed from a lawsuit contending the sheriff was behind a practice of violating constitutional rights of Hispanics by stopping them based on racial profiling and detaining them on suspicion they weren’t in the country legally.
Arpaio, who called himself the toughest sheriff in the country and bragged about harsh jail conditions under his watch, carried out the racial profiling stops by using armed, civilian volunteers. The move made him a folk-hero in far-right, nativist circles.
He was convicted of the crime, a misdemeanor, on July 31 after a trial before a federal judge. The 85-year-old Arpaio was awaiting sentencing, which could have been a maximum of six months in jail.
But just 25 days after he was convicted, after Trump visited Arizona last week and told supporters that “Sheriff Joe” didn’t have anything to worry about, the Arpaio conviction was erased with a presidential pen.
It drew sharp criticism from some Republicans, including House speaker Paul Ryan who said he disagreed with the decision, calling it a misuse of power that sends a dangerous signal, The New York Times reported.
“Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States,” the House speaker said in a statement. “We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said the Arpaio pardon “undermines” Trump’s claim that he has a respect for the rule of law because the former sheriff “has shown no remorse” for racially profiling minorities.