Monday, February 16, 2009

Finally, the Law Goes After Joe Arpaio -- the Most Abusive Sheriff In America

Posted by Emptywheel, Firedoglake at 10:47 AM on February 14, 2009.
The House Judiciary Committee made a critical and public step to rein in a terrible Arizona "lawman."

Hard to imagine, but he's even uglier on the inside.

You have probably heard of the shamelessly self professed "Toughest Sheriff in America", Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For years he has been making a PR spectacle of himself, all the while running an unconstitutionally deplorable jail system, letting inmates die under tortuous conditions, and violating the civil rights and liberties of everybody in sight, especially minorities. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee made public a critical and public step to rein in the Most Abusive Sheriff In America.

From the HJC press release:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), and Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) called on Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to investigate allegations of misconduct by Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly demonstrated disregard for the rights of Hispanics in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Under the guise of immigration enforcement, his staff has conducted raids in residential neighborhoods in a manner condemned by the community as racial profiling. On February 4, 2009, Arpaio invited the media to view the transfer of immigrant detainees to a segregated area of his "tent city" jail, subjecting the detainees to public display and "ritual humiliation." Persistent actions such as these have resulted in numerous lawsuits; while Arpaio spends time and energy on publicity and his reality television show, "Smile… You're Under Arrest!", Maricopa County has paid millions of dollars in settlements involving dead or injured inmates.


It is time for the federal government to step in and uphold the rule of law in this country, even in Maricopa County."

"Law enforcement is not a game or a reality show, it is a public trust," said Scott. "There is no excuse for callous indifference to the rights of the residents of Arizona, whether in their neighborhoods or as pretrial detainees."

The full official text of the letter to Napolitano and Holder is here.

It is high time that somebody on the national scene notice, and the Federal government take action on, the egregious and violative conduct of Joe Arpaio.

Joe Arpaio is a two bit carnival barker and huckster, not a dedicated law enforcement official. The opportunistic man came into office running against a fellow Republican and incumbent Maricopa County Sheriff, Tom Agnos, by bad mouthing Agnos and arguing that the entire Maricopa County Sheriff's Department needed to be cleaned up. In fact, Arpaio's winning campaign was predicated upon his willingness to mock the very department he was running to lead and promise to expose the dirty laundry of Agnos and the Sheriff's Department for its involvement in the infamous Buddhist Temple Murder case (link is a fascinating three part story), a seminal case in textbooks on coerced confessions (from the fact that four separate coerced false confessions were obtained to a single crime). Arpaio promised to restore honor to the department, and also swore he would serve only one term in office. Five terms and seventeen years later, Arpaio has failed miserably on both promises.

The upshot of the House Judiciary Committee's missive to Attorney General Holder and DHS Secretary Napolitano is that Arpaio's:

...repeated course of conduct, which values publicity opportunities over the civil rights of residents of Arizona, is too disturbing to leave enforcement of the civil rights laws to private litigants. There are several tools at the federal government's disposal to address these allegations, and we urge their prompt consideration and application.

In short, the HJC is demanding that a full panoply of federal civil and criminal laws and remedies be brought to bear by the arms of federal law enforcement. One of the grounds for the HJC demand is Arpaio's acts earlier this month, described in the letter as follows:

Most recently, on February 4, after making sure to alert the media, Arpaio reportedly paraded approximately 200 suspected illegal immigrants in shackles to a segregated area of his "tent city" county facility, where they will supposedly remain until they are adjudicated and have served any sentences they face for local violations. The New York Times described this conduct as "ritual humiliation." The men who Arpaio is displaying like trophies are reportedly in pretrial detention, not having been convicted of any crime.

If you want to understand the true extent of Sheriff Joe's war on brown people, the Phoenix New Times' expose "Guadalupe Made It Clear That Joe Arpaio’s Attacking Anyone With Brown Skin" is an absolute must read. Seriously, it is a long piece, but to call it chilling and important would be an understatement, and it is superb start to finish. Here is a taste:

With spirited protesters and helmeted deputies on horseback, the night of April 3 in Guadalupe was like some historical reenactment, albeit in miniature, of a late-'60s anti-war melee. You know, the kind chronicled by Norman Mailer in one of his seminal "non-fiction novels" of the era, such as Miami and the Siege of Chicago or The Armies of the Night.


Following up on his criticism of Arpaio during a César Chávez luncheon in March, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon addressed a letter to the U.S. Justice Department asking for an investigation of the sheriff. The letter was dated April 4, the second day of the MCSO's Guadalupe sweep, and the MCSO's actions in Guadalupe figured prominently in the missive.

Egregious to be sure, but hardly the only such acts by Arpaio, and certainly not the worst. Let's go through some of the others alluded to in the letter, although not described in detail.

Arpaio was little more than halfway through his first term in office when his policies and jail conditions first came under investigation for abuse by the US Department of Justice. Shortly after that, and still during his first term in office, young Scott Norberg died in Arpaio's jail as a result of said policies:

[Norberg] was in Arpaio's jail just 15 hours before he was handcuffed by guards, kicked, stomped on, and then strapped into a restraint chair. There, guards held a towel over his head, literally suffocating him. Medical records later revealed that he had been shot with a stun gun at least 14 times and beaten so badly that his larynx cracked.

That one cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County $8.25 million, but did not deter the Most Abusive Sheriff in America; instead, he seemed to get off on the notoriety. There were more unnatural deaths in Arpaio's jails, from a variety of causes, after Norberg. The belligerent Arpaio finally stopped the deplorable use of the restraint chair in 2006 after fighting demands by citizens and federal overseers on the issue for nearly a decade.

What caused Arpaio to finally give up his demonic obsession with the restraint chair that killed Scott Norberg? Ah, glad you asked:

On March 29, 2006, a $9 million court judgment was leveled against Arpaio and the county in the beating and restraint-chair death of inmate Charles Agster III.

Agster, 33 and mentally retarded, was arrested for trespassing on August 6, 2001. Detention officers at the Madison Street Jail pulled a hood over his head and slammed him into a medieval-looking restraint chair. The hood around Agster's throat smothered him to the point that he became brain dead. He was pronounced legally dead three days later on August 9, 2001.

Agster's death should have been prevented. Two years before he was killed, the county had paid $8.25 million to settle the Norberg suffocation suit.

There was at least one more death at the restraints of Arpaio's cherished chair, Clint Yarborough in 2005. It should be noted that neither Norberg, Agster, nor Yarbrough were ever tried or convicted for the charges they were arrested on; none of them lived to see their first court date and died innocent men under the law. Those are just the deaths associated with the medieval restraint chair, there have been numerous deaths from improper or complete lack of medical care, neglect and other perils.

One of the other examples of the decrepit conditions Arpaio presided over is that of Kathleen Carey:


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