Sheriff Joe Arpaio: facts v. myths

by Pollyanna Sunshine

Dear Conservative Family Member, who just forwarded me mass chain email about how great Joe Arpaio is and how the author of the email has “long wondered when the rest of the country would take a look at the way he runs the jail system, and copy some of his ideas”:  [full text available here]

While I recognize that the author of this email suggested that “If you agree, pass this on. If not, just delete it,” I cannot in good conscience delete this cheery little mess of bald-faced lies, distortions, and grotesque misinformation, without at least giving others a chance to know exactly how bald the lies are that they are passing on.

Whatever one’s position on the immigration issue–which Arpaio paid almost zero attention to until after 2004, when he almost lost the Republican primary to a virtually unknown opponent, and he was seeking a new angle to keep him in the media spotlight because he had alienated so many people in this state with his previously equal-opportunity abuses of civil rights, human decency, fiscal responsibility, and the duties of his office.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio is probably the most vile, corrupt, abusive excuse for a public official in Arizona history, possibly American history, and it is only his sudden conversion to the popular cause of hating on the illegals that has just barely kept him in office.

His record of fiscal irresponsibility alone should disqualify him from conservative admiration, even for those who do not care two beans about human rights or the US constitution.  The only thing that is keeping this man in office is out-of-state support and the naivete of the many newcomers here who believe the out-of-state hype and have never picked up a local newspaper.

Please consider checking your sources before forwarding stuff like this.  Here are some actual facts, from more authoritative sources, such as the Arizona Republic–the newspaper of record in the Phoenix metro area:

First, Arpaio won the 2008 election with only 55%, not 83% (as this email claims, even though he spent far more money on the election than his opponent, Dan Saban, and had seriously damaged Saban’s reputation during the 2004 Republican primary by falsely accusing him of raping his own foster mother as a youth (in fact, he was a victim of sexual abuse) and then his supporters ran an ad repeating the same accusations in 2008.   In the 2004 election, he won the Republican primary with only 55% (after the party leadership endorsed his opponent, due to concerns about fiscal mismanagement and abuse of power by Arpaio), and he won the general with less than 57% of the vote.  In 2000, he had won the general with 66%.  I can’t find online results from 1996 or 1992, but if he ever won by anything like 83% it was most certainly not in this century.

Fiscal conservatives, as well as fans of the constitution and human rights, might want to note that “With a fraction of the inmate population, Arpaio has had 50 times as many lawsuits as the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined,” for serious abuses and gross negligence resulting in death and severe injury to inmates, including several who were pregnant, mentally retarded, mentally ill, physically handicapped, elderly, or otherwise extremely vulnerable people, many of them merely awaiting a hearing or trial and therefore presumed to be (and in several cases, proven to be) innocent.  Please note that even the convicted inmates in county jails are mostly petty non-violent offenders, since more serious criminals are transferred to the state prison system, although the bleeding-heart federal and state judges and juries seem to be of the opinion that even convicted prisoners probably do not deserve to be chained to chairs and denied needed medications, locked into unventilated outdoor cells in the middle of summer, or subjected to rampant MRSA infections.  As of Dec. 2007, Maricopa County taxpayers had paid $41.4 million just to insure against, defend, settle, and pay out lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department. In the subsequent 2.5 years, he racked up millions more.  In July 2010, there were $46 million in NEW claims pending against the MCSO. And that’s before the latest round of crackdowns on protestors and suspected illegal immigrants.

All of that money is coming directly from taxpayers through the regular county budget, not the Sheriff’s budget.  (However, the MCSO budget has also skyrocketed in recent years, to nearly $300 million, albeit without any perceptible improvement in public safety.  His deputy sheriff did, however, take a whole bunch of staff and over $100k in taxpayer money to Honduras to train officers there, for reasons no one can clearly explain.

Arpaio regularly uses smear campaigns, intimidation, baseless investigations, and even unwarranted arrests to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against his critics and political opponents, and he has lost numerous lawsuits on this count as well (all, again, at taxpayer expense). He is also in open conflict and dealing with active lawsuits with most of the city governments and police forces within the county (for violating jurisdictions and interfering with city-based law enforcement, as well as creating significant public safety hazards during his immigration raids and/or when trying to serve warrants with the help of SWAT teams) and with his own county commissioners (for abuse of power and gross mismanagement of funds). He has also been under investigation by a variety of federal and state authorities for civil rights and human rights violations (both in the jails and in law enforcement), mismanagement of taxpayer funds, and abuse of power since at least 2008 (when the Bush administration first began investigating him).

Arpaio’s department actually has a pretty terrible record on doing what it’s actually supposed to do: responding to calls, enforcing laws, investigating crimes, and ensuring public safety in the unincorporated areas of Maricopa County (city police departments have jurisdiction in most of the populated areas of the county), and transporting prisoners and serving warrants throughout the county.

Yes, Arpaio does actually treat dogs and cats in his jails significantly better than inmates–“Kennels installed in Tent City for abused cats and dogs. Unlike inmate tents, the animal housing is air-conditioned and pets’ food is double the cost of prisoner meals”–but his department hardly has the greatest record in the animal protection field.  And personally, it makes me sort of ill that the author of this email, who apparently cares so much for animals, has so much contempt and so little empathy for the human beings in Arpaio’s jails (many of them, again, convicted of absolutely nothing, and all of them every bit as much God’s children as any one of us) as to take a considerable amount of glee in the prospect of them rotting away in poorly ventilated shacks in temperatures exceeding 120 degrees.

By the way, those much-touted crackdowns on illegal immigrants?  Cost a ton of money, disrupt and terrorize entire communities, and rarely net more than a handful of illegal immigrants and petty traffic violators, which is precisely why both ICE and the local police in those cities oppose them, because those resources are desperately needed for far more effective law enforcement and immigration control efforts.

Here is a timeline of Arpaio’s career of shame, terror, fiscal irresponsibility, human rights violations, illegal and unconstitutional practices, and the reasons why virtually no government official or citizen in this entire state who is even remotely familiar with his record supported him in the last election.

It is not just the Latinos who regard this man as “El Diablo.”  Even though Pollyanna quite sincerely buys into little Anne Frank’s comment that “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” she has a great deal of difficulty finding any excuse for Sheriff Joe.

But I still do believe in the good will and good sense of most other people, especially those blood relatives whom I know to be kind and caring and usually quite intelligent people, even though they hold somewhat different political views, and even when they occasionally forward very disturbing emails about topics they know nothing about.  With that in mind, I hope you will consider forwarding this back to the people who sent you this and to anyone to whom you forwarded the previous email.


Pollyanna Sunshine

P.S.  Some more fact-checking of this chain email, from

11 replies »

  1. I kept seeing the sheriff in the movie, Silverado while reading this blog. As long as people remain blissfully ignorant and apathetic, scoundrels like this will find their way into power and politics!

  2. Seriously when will people open up their eyes, and see that this so called Sheriff is just full of himself! All he wants its attention, every time he does something he calls every news crew in this planet, and yet there are still people who think he has been doing a great job?? Seriously think about it, do you really want a sheriff who has millions of lawsuits? let alone terrorizing the whole community!!
    Its disgusting to see people support him, not only that but sad too!

  3. FINALLY!! An intelligent article, complete with resource links for our OWN confirmation of the facts regarding Arpaio. Thank you.

  4. History will show that Arpiao is one of the greatest frauds in the history of American politics. The sad fact is, there’s a lot of badge sniffers in this country who get a kick out of someone in the Maricopa County lockup on unpaid parking tickets dying in custody because they were denied medication.

  5. I’m trying to get into the law enforcement field, and until Sheriff Joe’s out of there, I’m not sending a single application anywhere in AZ. Add Brewer to the list, too, actually…

  6. Actually, KH, most of the city police forces and other county sheriff’s departments are very good and a large number of their leaders and at least the officer’s unions have come out explicitly against both Arpaio (in the elections and some lawsuits). However, it is true that the police in Maricopa County (which includes most of PHX metro area) have to rely on El Diablo Arpaio for both jail services and serving warrants, even if they don’t trust him to do either competently or safely. However, the Tucson and Flagstaff areas (Pima and Coconino Counties) are both pretty liberal, cooler (temp wise), hipper, and prettier (scenery and architecture-wise), and the Pima County Sheriff has gone on record supporting opposing candidates and declaring that he will not enforce SB 1070.

    But yes, unless you have a compelling reason to want to live in AZ, there are probably more congenial places to launch a career in law enforcement. But as someone who lives in Maricopa County, it really depresses me that the good folks are fleeing and leaving us with people who either support Joe or don’t have the strength to stand up to him or the qualifications to find a job in a better department.

    However, I rely on the PHX and Tempe and Chandler and Mesa PDs to keep my home and family and workplace and other places (and people) I care about safe, and so far I must say that all my interactions with those folks have been perfectly okay (aside from a few relatively minor instances of poor customer service or miscommunication and some convenient but non-essential citizen services cancelled due to budget cuts) and that I have read or heard anything to disabuse me of my general trust in those departments.

    BTW, I’m planning an insider’s guide to AZ to more fully explain why the “Arizona” you see in the media is almost exclusively Maricopa County and does not represent the rest of the state, so that should be up in a week or two.

  7. Maybe you should also include one of the above articles about about some of the snopes facts on Sheriff Joe. Not saying everything he does is right
    But, I do agree with a jail that does not have a weight rm, cable TV and many things a normal low income family cannot afford! I have no problem with images raising their own food in gardens, farms animals i.e. Pigs, chickens, beef and the such.
    Replace the weights and free crap. You earn respect!