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House speaker Paul Ryan says he disagrees with President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, less than a month after he was convicted of criminal contempt in a case involving his department’s racial profiling policy.
“Law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement.
Both Republican Senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also were critcal of the move.
In a statement late Friday, the White House said of Arpaio: “Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is a worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.”
Trump had hinted at a campaign-style rally last week that he might pardon Arpaio, whom supporters have called “America’s toughest sheriff.”
As sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, Arpaio was a vocal advocate for crackdowns on illegal immigration and last month was convicted of misdemeanor contempt of court because he refused to comply with a 2011 order by a U.S. district judge to stop traffic patrols that were aimed at identifying illegal immigrants.
Trump’s Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert told ABC’s This Week that the pardon was “pretty straightforward” and “just about every modern president ends up with some controversial pardons.”
Some of Arpaio’s critics have expressed disappointment over Trump’s decision, including Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“With his pardon of Arpaio, Trump has chosen lawlessness over justice,” Wang said, referring to Arpaio’s unorthodox disciplinary measures, some of which — such as the racial profiling policy — have been ruled illegal.
“Once again, the president has acted in support of illegal, failed immigration enforcement practices that target people of color and have been struck down by the courts,” she added. “His pardon of Arpaio is a presidential endorsement of racism.”
The American Bar Association, a national organization of lawyers and other legal professionals, said in a statement it is disappointed in the president’s action, which it said undermined public trust in the U.S. legal system. The ABA said Arpaio had “disobeyed the courts and violated the rights of people he was sworn to protect”, substituting his own interpretation of justice for the law.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials called the pardon “an endorsement of racism from the highest office in the land.”
Arpaio would have faced up to six months in jail at his October 5 sentencing.
“Sheriff Joe” has enjoyed a significant amount of publicity with his unorthodox disciplinary methods, such as placing inmates in desert tent camps housing more than 1,000 people, in a state where summer temperatures often climb past 100°F (37°C).
Amnesty International spoke out against the so-called “Tent City Jail” in 1997, saying it was not an “adequate or human alternative to housing inmates in suitable jail facilities.”
The tent city continued to exist, however, until current Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced in April 2017 that it would be shut down. Penzone said the tent city was neither a deterrent to crime nor cost-effective.
Arpaio also made famous the practice of outfitting prisoners in pink underwear to cut down on theft. Later he sold customized pink boxers to the general public as a charity fundraiser.
He was also was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU accusing him of mistreating pre-trial detainees by feeding them rotten food, refusing them health care, and packing them tightly into overheated cells. A federal judge ruled in 2008 and again in 2010 that conditions in Arpaio’s jails were unconstitutional.
Accused in the lawsuit of creating a “culture of cruelty” at Maricopa County facilities, Sheriff Arpaio has responded that his jails are meant as places for punishment.
He was investigated for abuse of power in 2008, in connection with an FBI investigation, but the inquiry was closed four years later by the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office with no charges filed.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of a three-year investigation into complaints of racial profiling in Maricopa County. It found that under Sheriff Arpaio, the sheriff’s office had “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” reaching “the highest levels of the agency.”
Arpaio appealed, but lost. On May 24, 2013, Arpaio and his office were found to be in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Maricopa County Sheriff is an elected position; Arpaio served six terms between 1992 and 2016, but lost last year’s election to Paul Penzone.