Last December, the U.S. Justice Department said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office violated U.S. civil rights laws by engaging in racial profiling of Latinos and making unlawful arrests in their bid to crack down on illegal immigrants. Federal authorities have now decided to close their abuse-of-power investigation without filing charges against him. Authorities had also been investigating America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff for his part in failed public corruption cases against officials who were at odds with him. The federal probe focused specifically on the investigative work of the sheriff’s anti-public-corruption squad that handled the failed case Arpaio brought against the officials. In a separate probe, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Arpaio’s office of a wide range of civil rights violations, and in an unrelated case, a federal judge has yet to rule in a civil case brought by a group of Latino plaintiffs that claimed Arpaio and his deputies engaged in racial profiling. Federal authorities also said that they have decided to not prosecute matters tied to alleged misuse of county credit cards by sheriff’s officials, alleged misspending of jail-enhancement funds and other matters.
The 80-year-old sheriff and his top ally, former Count Attorney Andrew Thomas were embroiled in a three-year feud with county officials and judges and defended their investigations as necessary for rooting out corruption in government. The officials who were targets of the investigations contend the probes were trumped up as retaliation for political and legal disagreements with the sheriff and prosecutor.
Critics say officials and judges who crossed Arpaio and in political disputes were often targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged. Criminal cases against former Superior Court Judge Gay Donahoe and county supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley were dismissed after a judge ruled that Thomas prosecuted one of the three officials for political gain and had a conflict of interest in pressing the case. Authorities say the charges against Donahoe were filed in a bid to prevent the judge from holding a hearing regarding Arpaio and Thomas’ claim that judges and county officials conspired to hinder a probe into the construction of a court building. Thomas was disbarred in early April by an ethics panel of the Arizona courts that found he brought unsuccessful criminal cases against the judge and two county officials for the purpose of embarrassing them.
Meanwhile, in the civil case, the Latino plaintiffs aren’t seeking monetary damages. Instead, they want a declaration that Arpaio’s office uses racial profiling and an order requiring policy changes. If Arpaio loses the case, he won’t face jail time or fines.
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