President Trump issued an executive pardon Friday to Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Arizona sheriff who was a hero to the right and a national nemesis of Latinos, immigration advocates and civil rights groups.
Arpaio, 85, was convicted in July of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order to stop racially profiling Latinos. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and faced a maximum of six months in jail.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old, and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a presidential pardon,” a statement issued by the White House said.
There was immediate reaction from some of those who have accused the aging lawman of brutality and racism.
“He should be held accountable. No one is above the law,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). “Arpaio hurt Arizonans and cost taxpayers a great amount of grief and money.”
Arpaio said he was “humbled and incredibly grateful” to the president and looked forward “to putting this chapter behind me.”
The president has broad power under the Constitution to pardon people convicted of federal crimes. Trump had all but promised to pardon Arpaio in tweets and comments in recent weeks, yet acknowledged the political furor his pardon was likely to ignite.
“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump told a raucous political rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. He added, “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Arpaio did not attend the Phoenix rally because he did not get a White House invitation and did not “want to cause any havoc,” he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview a day earlier. He also said he had not spoken with the president since Trump took office.
By week’s end, though, the Trump administration issued the statement announcing the pardon, citing Arpaio’s long years of “selfless public service” that began with his enlistment during the Korean War and continued through his years as a police officer, special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and, finally, a highly controversial sheriff in Arizona.
“Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” the White House statement said.
Other supporters applauded the move. “President Trump recognized Sheriff Arpaio was doing his job, following the law, and this is why he deserves to be pardoned,” James Fotis, president of the National Center for Police Defense, said in a statement. The organization said Arpaio “removed individuals that were in the United States illegally … many of which were hardened criminals and gang members.”
During his trial, Arpaio was found guilty of ignoring a federal court’s order to cease patrols that racially profiled Latinos and stopped them on suspicion they were in the country illegally.
In November, Arpaio lost his bid for a seventh term after a race in which his hard-line record was a top issue.
The bond between Trump and Arpaio first formed over their shared false belief that President Obama probably wasn’t born in the United States and thus was an usurper president. Obama was born in Hawaii.
After Trump entered the presidential race in July 2015, Arpaio invited him to Phoenix to talk about a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Trump just before the first votes in the Iowa caucuses last year and became a frequent campaign surrogate.
Trump had told Fox News that he was “seriously” considering pardoning Arpaio.
“He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot, and I hate to see what has happened to him,” the president said.
As White House aides prepared paperwork for the pardon — reportedly without the usual assistance of Justice Department lawyers — they also drafted talking points for supporters to defend the president’s action.
It was Arpaio’s roughly quarter-century as sheriff that gave him a national reputation, or notoriety, for his tough treatment of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Repeated court findings against his office for civil rights violations cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
In the early 1990s Arpaio directed construction of a tent city for detainees, open to the burning Arizona sun, both to alleviate overcrowding and to underscore his aggressive enforcement measures.
He famously made prisoners wear pink underwear and handcuffs, reinstated chain gangs for men, women and juveniles, and cut out lunches.
“It’s time to get tough around here,” he said in 1993.
Arpaio embraced the nickname “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and many Republican candidates sought his endorsement at election time. Over time, however, as the Latino voting population grew in Arizona and other states, the national Republican Party became wary of Arpaio. Trump changed that.
In 2013, Obama’s Justice Department had sued Arpaio’s office, alleging long-running discriminatory policies, in particular the practice of racially profiling Latino drivers. The case was settled in 2015.
In 2016, Arpaio had a speaking role at the Republican National Convention that officially nominated Trump for the presidency.
Times staff writer Kurtis Lee in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
6:45 p.m.: The story was updated with a statement from a national police group.
6:25 p.m.: The story was updated with Arpaio’s reaction on Twitter.
5:40 p.m.: The story was updated with initial reaction on social media.
The story was originally published at 5:05 p.m.