Arpaio’s legacy still felt months after his defeat
Phoenix — The criminal conviction returned against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the ultimate repudiation of his tactics, but the fallout over his legacy is still being felt across metro Phoenix.
The taxpayer cost from a racial profiling case that led to his criminal conviction is expected to reach $92 million by next summer. People who were illegally detained when Arpaio violated a court order in the profiling case will still need to be compensated. And Latinos say his legacy lives on in the form of fear.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found Arpaio guilty of misdemeanor contempt of court on Monday for intentionally defying a 2011 order in the profiling case to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. Arpaio was accused of prolonging the patrols for 17 months so he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in a bid to boost his 2012 re-election campaign.
County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a longtime Arpaio critic, predicted that it will take years for the sheriff’s office to rebuild its trust with the Latino community.
“When you have a sheriff for 24 years who did everything to build divisions between the community and the sheriff’s office, it will take a lot of time and money to rebuild those relationships,” Gallardo said.
The verdict marked a final rebuke for a politician who once drew strong support from such crackdowns but was booted from office last year as voters got frustrated with his headline-grabbing tactics, such as jailing inmates in tents during triple-degree summer heat and making them wear pink underwear.
The 85-year-old retired lawman is set to be sentenced Oct. 5 and could face up to six months in jail. But attorneys who have followed the case doubt someone his age would be incarcerated.
His criminal conviction wasn’t enough to erase the trauma that Noemi Romero said she suffered when she was arrested by Arpaio’s officers on forgery and identity theft charges during a 2013 raid on a Phoenix supermarket, where she used her mother’s identity to land a job as a cashier. She spent two months in jail before she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served.
Romero, who was brought to the United States illegally by her parents when she was 3 years old, couldn’t take part in a government program that would protect her from deportation because of her felony conviction.
Arpaio’s conviction doesn’t necessarily mean justice was served, Romero said.
“To me, all the harm that he caused not just to me but to many families, the separation of families, that’s something that’s never going to be repaired whether he gets jail time or not. That’s something that you’re never getting back,” Romero said. “All the trauma that he’s caused, you know, they can’t take that away.”
Arpaio, who plans to appeal the verdict, declined a request Tuesday for an interview.
Jack Wilenchik, one of his lawyers, declined to reveal how Arpaio was handling the verdict, but he emphasized that his client’s fate should have been decided by a jury, not a judge. The judge presiding over the profiling case recommended a criminal charge against Arpaio, and the criminal case was later handed off to Bolton to decide.
“It’s simply not fair to have a judge of the same court initiate a prosecution for violations of an order and then trying a case on an interpretation of the order,” Wilenchik said.
The profiling case has already cost taxpayers $66 million for items such as attorney fees, officer training to guard against future constitutional violations and setting up an alert system to spot problematic behavior by sheriff’s deputies. Over the next year, it will cost an additional $26 million, largely for adding officers to work on the effort to comply with a court-ordered overhaul of the sheriff’s office.
The financial hemorrhaging is expected to continue until the sheriff’s office comes in full compliance for three straight years with court-ordered changes.
The sheriff’s office, which was ordered to start making the changes in October 2013, has been deemed 40 percent compliant with the first phase of the overhaul and 58 percent compliant in phase two, according to a report measuring the agency’s progress during the first quarter of 2017.
There are other Arpaio-related costs that taxpayers will have to bear.
Immigrants who were illegally detained when Arpaio prolonged his patrols will be able to seek money from the county government in the future as compensation for the harm they suffered. The judge who presides over the profiling case ordered up a $500,000 fund to be set up to compensate Latinos who were detained in violation of an order to stop the immigration patrols.
Arpaio’s successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone, through a spokesman, declined a request from The Associated Press to comment on whether the verdict will help turn the page on Arpaio’s 24-year tenure.
But in an interview Monday with KTAR-FM, Penzone said he has done his best during his first seven months in office to change the agency.
“This outcome speaks to my predecessor and his legacy,” Penzone said. “But as far as it having an impact on closure or any element of what we’re doing or who we are, that train left the station a long time ago for us. We moved forward from this a long time ago.”
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