Katy Burns: Pardoning Arpaio is justice undone

  • Donald Trump is joined by Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Jan. 26, 2016. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/27/2017 12:15:14 AM

The pardoning of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a disgusting miscarriage of justice, carried out by a man, Donald Trump, to whom the entire concept of “justice” is apparently alien.

Make no mistake: Arpaio deliberately broke the law. And now he will never pay a penalty for it.

Arpaio isn’t just a garden variety lawbreaker, either. He was himself a lawman, sworn to uphold the law. Instead, he knowingly, even gleefully, broke the law. Repeatedly and – for too many years – with complete impunity.

He regularly terrorized thousands of residents – he jumbled them all under the heading of “Mexicans,” regardless of their actual nationality (including American), origin or residency status – with constant stops, searches and arrests. His victims, chosen largely on their Hispanic appearance, were often tossed into what he jokingly (!) referred to as “concentration camps.”

He and his minions, er, deputies made people’s lives hell, pure and simple.

He violated plenty of rules as he was at it. And he neglected a lot of normal duties of his office, especially investigating and processing sexual assault cases. Thousands of rape kits, for example, sat on shelves gathering dust while Arpaio focused on harassing brown-skinned people with suspicious accents.

He was repeatedly admonished by other law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities to mend his ways. Fines didn’t deter him, nor did the mounting sums of money Maricopa County had to shell out to settle lawsuits his malfeasance and misfeasance brought – well in excess of $50 million. The U.S. Justice Department did what it could to rein him in, to no avail.

He kept doing what he was doing, because – surprise! – it worked, at least until last November, when he was finally defeated at the polls. He had been repeatedly re-elected by the people whose lives he wasn’t trying to destroy. The same voters who may well have depended on the services provided by Arpaio’s victims – but who didn’t care.

And he achieved more and more fame (infamy?) in the country. He was great material for a 24/7 news cycle desperate for fresh stuff. What overworked writer on deadline doesn’t like a loudmouth blowhard always good for a pungent, politically incorrect zinger or two?

Along the way Arpaio started to be called “America’s Sheriff.” Maybe he started it himself? And it was repeated, ad nauseam, I don’t know why. I think I can say for me – like many millions of Americans – Joe Arpaio isn’t and never was my sheriff. Any more than Rudy Giuliani was my mayor or the Dallas Cowboys my team.

And, of course, Arpaio attracted the attention of Donald Trump, a grandstanding New York billionaire with a penchant for politically incorrect blather, who knew another blustering bully when he saw one.

The two formed a mutual admiration society, one which really blossomed when Arpaio adopted the same strident Birtherism – the outrageous and insulting falsehood that Barack Obama was not in fact born in America – that Trump had made his signature calling card.

The publicity-happy sheriff even bragged that his underlings were hot on Obama’s case, and periodically he’d bluster that he was finding secret after unidentified secret, which only solidified the loony right’s reverence – and Trump’s approval. None, of course, ever saw the light of day, because it was all lies.

His adoption of the Birther cause didn’t help him, though, when in 2011 a federal judge had enough of the scofflaw sheriff and issued an order for Arpaio to cease and desist his illegal (and repugnant) treatment of the local people he victimized.

And the lawless Arpaio thumbed his nose at the court and kept hauling people in based solely on their skin tone.

In 2016, finally, Arpaio was – finally – found in civil contempt of court. Early this year he was convicted of criminal contempt of court as well for willfully violating a federal court order. This alleged “officer of the court” put himself above that court, indeed above the very Constitution he’d taken a vow to uphold.

His sentencing – until Trump interfered – was scheduled for October 5, with the possibility of up to five months in prison – hardly a draconian burden, and hardly one he’d actually serve doing hard labor.

But Trump early on loudly proclaimed his desire to interfere. And last week during his virtuoso 75-minute stream-of-consciousness performance in Phoenix he made that evident – “I think (Sheriff Joe’s) . . . going to be just fine okay? But I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to cause any controversy.”

And later in the week the White House let it be known that the paperwork was done, awaiting only the president’s signature. It was announced Friday night under the noise of the Hurricane Harvey news.

The fact that Arpaio, a law officer, had blown a big raspberry at the law and the Constitution – and in the process rubbed salt in the wounds of all those whose lives he’d damaged and perhaps even destroyed – meant little to a man, Donald Trump, who seems to have similar contempt for the law. And now the criminal sheriff will walk free.

Thank you, Mr. President. You have once again lowered the bar for presidential behavior.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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