“A pretty stunning trail of evil,” is how journalist and publisher Michael Lacey described the 24-year reign of terror and malfeasance of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Michael Lacey and his partner Jim Larkin, founders of the alternative newspaper, the Phoenix New Times, have made careers of exposing the misdeeds of the self-described “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
One of these was filed by Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican national in the United States with a legal visa. In the case of Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio, presiding federal judge G. Murray Snow ruled that the Sheriff’s Office under Arpaio had engaged in numerous illegal practices, including Arpaio’s infamous tent city that he referred to as his “concentration camp, where the inmates were fed spoiled food and kept in temperatures of up to 135 degrees.”
Arpaio’s jail experienced deaths at a much higher rate than other American jails. Many of the suspicious deaths were ruled suicides by the authorities.
Judge Snow also found that Arpaio had engaged in misuse of his authority in order to investigate anyone who opposed him with the intention of arresting them, or at the very least, damaging their reputations.
Among those Arpaio harassed were critics, political opponents, the state attorney general, and members of the Maricopa County Board of supervisors. In fact, during the trial, Arpaio paid an informant to investigate the presiding judge.
The main charge against Arpaio was racial profiling and illegal traffic stops, ordering his deputies and Sheriff’s posses to stop and detain anyone who appeared to be of Latin heritage in order to determine if they were subject to deportation. Read more: Phoenix New Times | Wikipedia and Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund
In October 2013, Judge Snow issued a judicial order intended to protect the public from misbehavior under color of law. He appointed a monitor to watch over the sheriff’s deputies.
He implemented advanced training in how to conduct traffic stops and instituted comprehensive record keeping, including requiring audio and video recordings of all traffic stops. He further ruled that officers would be required to radio in the purpose of each traffic stop before making contact with the driver and passengers.
In May 2016, Judge Snow ruled that the Sheriff and his deputies had committed “multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith,” demonstrating a relentless disregard for the court’s instructions. He noted that this was done with the intent of violating the court order.
For “intentionally and repeatedly” violating court orders and creating an environment that encouraged racial bias to flourish. Judge Snow declared that Arpaio was in criminal contempt and sentenced him to jail.
A few weeks before he was to report to jail to begin serving his sentence, and his many victims thought they were going to get at least a small measure of justice, Arpaio received a presidential pardon for Donald Trump.
Learn more about James Larkin and Michael Lacey: