The findings in DOJ’s investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t surprise many local longtime critics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, many of whom said Thursday that his departure would be the only way to put a stop to his office’s deep-seated bias.
What set this investigation of the MCSO apart from other pattern and practice investigations, according to DOJ’s Tom Perez, is that the issues go to the “highest levels of the organization.”
Perez wouldn’t take the bait when asked by several different reporters on Thursday whether Arpaio needed to step aside, in order for adequate change to take place, only saying that the feds would “work with Sheriff Arpaio and his leadership” to resolve the civil rights abuses.
But given Arpaio’s previous resistance to the federal probe (he once declared that the feds should be thanking him instead of declaring “war on Arizona” — which led to DOJ filing suit to obtain records relevant to their investigation), it’s unclear if cooperation is even a possibility.
Critics certainly don’t see Arpaio undergoing any sort of conversion. While the report is likely to bring Arpaio under even more scrutiny, his opponents in Arizona don’t see the results as particularly surprising. For the most part, they see the solution to the problems acknowledged by the DOJ as cut and dry: Arpaio has to go.
Randy Parraz of Citizens For A Better Arizona, the group behind the successful ouster of Senate president Russell Pearce (R), had been working to get rid of Arpaio even before the DOJ’s report. He told TPM that the report is a “good development, it’s not to the answer to what we want to happen.”
He said his group will be “broadening our campaign” and talking to elected officials, school boards, city councils and others to push for Arpaio’s ouster. Parraz also pointed to an attempt by Arpaio opponents on Wednesday to pressure the Board of Supervisors to file a resolution to oust him over allegations that he botched a number of sex-crime investigations.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Parraz said, but “it’s not a guarantee,” adding that the people of Arizona can’t trust the federal government to solve the Arpaio problem.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said that “there is a certain level of validation” from this investigation for people who have been criticizing Arpaio for years, but something has to change.
“There’s so much politically at stake here, even if you support Arpaio you should support public safety first and look at this objectively,” Grijalva said. “If you do that, regardless of where you fall on the issue of immigration, which has been his national profile, we’re talking about public safety in his community, Maricopa County, that it is not happening the way it should be.”
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox called on Arpaio to resign, because, she said, “I truly think that is the only way to resolve this. The findings vindicate what the community has been saying was going on. When you terrorize this community - and cavalierly do it - and put yourself above the rule of law, the United States of America will not stand for it.”
According to the Arizona Republic, Maricopa County Sheriff candidate Mike Stauffer said that this confirms what he has known for years about the “unconstitutional practices” of Arpaio. “The federal government has taken a step to giving Arizona help in correcting almost 19 years of criminal behavior by Arpaio. However, we cannot rely solely on the federal government to provide relief. We must continue to use the democratic process to remove Arpaio from office.”
And Petra Falcon, the executive director of Promise Arizona in Action, told the Republic that “the Justice Department has decided to rebuke Arpaio, another lawmaker with an anti-immigrant streak. Promise Arizona in Action believes today’s actions against Arpaio are greatly justified.”
David Leibowitz, a media and political consultant in East Valley, AZ, was also unsurprised. “Racial profiling? Political retribution? That’s the same stuff we’ve been hearing for years here in Arizona. This looks like “same old, same old,” perhaps with louder volume,” he told TPM.
“Will he resign? Hell no,” Leibowitz continued. “Instead, I believe he’ll label this a political witchhunt by the Obama Administration and a DOJ that has little to no credibility after Fast and Furious. Will he survive? Yes, I imagine he will. I think Joe Arpaio will be the Sheriff of Maricopa County for as long as he wants. Why do I believe that? Because his bedrock ideas (that you shouldn’t live better in jail than you do on the street) resonate with most Valley residents, and he tends to pick on people (criminals, illegal immigrants) who aren’t widely loved here in Maricopa County.”
The DOJ’s report on the MCSO makes clear that “Arpaio’s own actions have helped nurture MCSO’s culture of bias.” They claim he has “promoted a culture of bias in his organization and clearly communicated to his officers that biased policing would not only be tolerated, but encouraged.”
But it’s not only discriminatory policing that the feds were worried about. The report also found that MCSO deputies “have sought to silence individuals who have publicly spoken out and participated in protected demonstrations” against Arpaio’s policies under “the direction of Sheriff Arpaio and his command staff.”
They recount a July 29, 2010 incident in which an immigration rights organizer (nicknamed “C.C.”) participated in a peaceful protest against MCSO. Deputies arrested the individual and released them later that night. When C.C. showed up to watch a protest the next day, six deputies approached and arrested him even though he was “simply standing with his hands by his side at the time.” As the incident unfolded, “Sheriff Arpaio posted a series of approving messages on a social networking site,” according to the report. Charges were dropped a few days later because there was no probable cause for the arrest.
In some cases, the feds found that MCSO leadership had also directed deputies to bring false criminal charges against MCSO critics.
“The fact that all of the charges were subsequently dismissed strongly suggests the ‘chilling effect was [the] but-for cause’ of the police action,” the feds write. “Moreover, much maliciously motivated charges would have the effect of silencing a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in further protected speech.” They found that MCSO officials “have committed a series of retaliatory actions” which are “designed to chill the exercise of protected First Amendment activities.”
There’s already been some immediate consequences for Arpaio: DHS and ICE cut off the MCSO’s access to the Secure Communities program on Thursday and ended an agreement that lets them detain illegal immigrants after their initial arrest.
But it’s still unclear what precisely the next steps are at the federal level. Federal officials disclosed their findings to the MCSO just this morning and the office hasn’t responded in the media so far. DOJ’s letter gives Arpaio and his deputies until close-of-business on Jan. 4 to let them know whether they are interested in having a “constructive” dialogue.
“If MCSO is not interested or if we deem that MCSO is not engaged in good-faith efforts to achieve compliance by voluntary means, we are prepared to file a civil action to compel compliance,” DOJ’s Perez wrote in a letter to the Maricopa County attorney.