The Slatest

The Self-Described “Toughest Sheriff in America” Is Guilty of Racial Profiling, Judge Rules

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio attends the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 29, 2012

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio certainly knows how to get attention. He has required prisoners to wear pink underwear and sleep in tents. He has removed salt and pepper from prisons in what he described as a bid to save money for taxpayers. Yet nothing has gotten Arpaio more attention than his trademark immigration patrols that he launched in 2006 that a judge has now ruled are illegal. A federal judge ruled that Arpaio’s office violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers as part of his crackdown of immigration violations in the state that is the busiest entryway for illegal immigrants. It was the first time a court has ruled Arpaio’s agency is guilty of racial profiling, reports the Associated Press.


Coming at a time when many in Arizona were demanding action on illegal immigration, Arpaio quickly became a political lightning rod. And Arpaio has insisted the federal government will not stop him from doing what he thinks is right. But now he will be forced to comply with the ruling as the judge said Arpaio’s office “has no authority to detain people based only on reasonable suspicion, or probable cause, without more, that such persons are in this country without authorization.” In their eagerness to enforce immigration laws, Arpaio and his officers ended up violating the constitutional rights of both U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, reports Reuters. Eight months after a non-jury trial, the judge said Arpaio’s office can’t detain Latino drivers and passengers only on the suspicion that they’re illegal immigrants or use race or ancestry as grounds to stop anyone. Arpaio long denied the allegations and will appeal the ruling.

The ruling was an unexpected “gift” for the organizers of a drive to recall Arpaio that had lost momentum in recent weeks as the sheriff maintained a low profile, reports the Arizona Republic. “It’s a gift that reminded us that Sheriff Arpaio has to go,’’ the organizer of the campaign tells the paper.