With latest payout, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has cost taxpayers $100 million

Then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., in 2013
Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a news conference in Phoenix in 2013.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Nearly five years after Joe Arpaio was voted out as sheriff of Arizona’s most populous county, taxpayers are covering one of the last major bills from the thousands of lawsuits that his headline-grabbing tactics inspired.

Officials in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, agreed last week to pay $3.1 million to cover the county’s portion of a settlement with a restaurant owner who alleged that Arpaio defamed him and violated his rights when raiding his businesses.

The payout takes to $100 million the attorney fees, settlements and other costs the county has paid from lawsuits stemming from Arpaio’s six terms over things such as jail deaths, investigations of the sheriff’s political enemies and immigration raids on businesses.


That doesn’t include the separate $178 million — and counting — that taxpayers have shelled out in a 2007 racial profiling case stemming from Arpaio’s signature traffic patrols targeting immigrants, although about 75% of that spending has occurred on his successor’s watch as he works to comply with court-ordered overhauls of the sheriff’s office.

Michael Manning, an attorney who won settlements over deaths in Arpaio’s jails and on behalf of county employees investigated by the sheriff, said it was shameful that voters kept reelecting Arpaio as his legal bills piled up.

“They just didn’t care as long as they got the entertainment value,” Manning said. “And it just went on and on.”

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Aug. 1, 2017

Advocates for immigrants have long warned that Arpaio should be viewed as a cautionary tale for the long-term financial obligations communities take on when they let local law enforcement officers handle immigration enforcement.

The Republican sheriff was first known nationally for jailing people in tents amid Phoenix’s triple-digit summer heat, making them wear pink underwear and using them on old-fashioned chain gangs. His influence in Republican circles grew when he launched immigration crackdowns, something long seen as the duty of federal authorities.

Those crackdowns continued until his immigration powers were finally stripped away by the federal government and courts by 2014.

Arpaio’s crushing defeat in 2016 to a Democratic challenger came after he was found in civil contempt of court for ignoring a judge’s order in the racial profiling case, leading to a more serious 2017 criminal contempt conviction for which he was later pardoned by then-President Trump.


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April 23, 2015

The 89-year-old Arpaio, who lost a 2020 bid to win back his job and is now running for mayor of Fountain Hills, Ariz., said he’s proud of the way he ran one of the largest county jail systems in the U.S.

He pointed out that jail operators are often the target of a large volume of lawsuits, and given that he served 24 years as sheriff, “$100 million is not unreasonable.”

He defended his immigration crackdowns, saying he had a duty to enforce new state laws that prohibited the smuggling of immigrants and the use of phony identification in getting jobs. Arpaio contends that some spending in the profiling case for things like equipment and additional employees was needed anyway to modernize the agency.

The legal spending for Arpaio’s office, which aside from the racial profiling case averaged about $4.2 million a year, wasn’t nearly as high as some police agencies. Litigation expenses for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, for instance, totaled $480 million for the eight-year period ending in late June 2020, averaging about $60 million per year, according to records.

Coming from anybody but Donald Trump, the pardon issued to rogue cop Joe Arpaio would be shocking.

Aug. 28, 2017

Still the number of lawsuits — more than 6,000 in federal courts alone — and Arpaio’s seeming indifference to them are noteworthy.

Some of the most high-profile payouts include: $8.25 million over the asphyxiation death of a man who struggled with Arpaio’s jail officers; $8.7 million for officials and judges who claimed that Arpaio launched trumped-up investigations against them; $3.5 million in a lawsuit alleging that Arpaio’s office botched the investigation into the rape of a 13-year-old girl who had developmental difficulties; and $200,000 for a pretrial jail detainee who was restrained before and after giving birth at a hospital.

Even after he was ousted, the payouts continued, including a $7-million settlement with the family of a man with mental illness who died after being beaten and stunned by officers in one of Arpaio’s jails.

The payout to the restaurateur last week is believed to be the last major case against Arpaio.

All the elements were in place here Friday evening for violent clashes outside a fundraiser featuring polarizing former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sept. 30, 2017

Still the bill to taxpayers from the racial profiling case is expected to keep growing.

The judge in that case ordered an overhaul of the sheriff’s traffic-enforcement operations, including new training for deputies, analyzing traffic stop data, establishing a warning system to identify officers with problematic behavior, equipping deputies with body cameras and other changes.

The court then ordered a second overhaul of the agency’s internal affairs operation, which under Arpaio had been criticized for protecting sheriff’s officials from accountability.

A quarter of the $178 million spent in the profiling case occurred while Arpaio was still in office. The rest has come during the tenure of new Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Much of the spending goes toward hiring employees to help meet the court’s requirements. The spending is expected to continue until the sheriff’s office has fully complied with the court for three straight years. Though progress has been made, it has yet to be deemed fully compliant.

Penzone has faced his own legal issues, including a civil contempt claim for taking too long to close internal affairs investigations. Penzone has said he won’t contest the claim.

Raul Piña, who serves on a community advisory board set up to help improve trust in the sheriff’s office, said Arpaio and Penzone are both to blame for the steep costs of the profiling case.

He also said traffic-enforcement studies show that Latino drivers pulled over by sheriff’s deputies are still being treated differently from white drivers.

Ava Arpaio faithfully supported husband Joe Arpaio’s long and polarizing political career.

March 24, 2021

“You don’t have brown people being paraded before the cameras,” Piña said. “That’s better. But the outcomes of racial profiling are essentially the same. Does it look better? Sure. It is enough for people to decide today we are in a better place? I suppose so. But if you are a victim of that, it is really better?”

In a statement, Penzone said the challenges of the profiling case are his responsibility.

“Rebuilding an organization and managing federal court oversight is a difficult and evolving process,” Penzone said. “We have made considerable progress in some areas, fallen short in others. Our work continues, but rest assured that [the Sheriff’s Department] is a far better organization today than when oversight began.”

Even though voter frustration over Arpaio’s contempt finding and legal bills are believed to have contributed significantly to his 2016 defeat, the former sheriff said he has zero regrets about his time in office.

“I’d do it all over again,” Arpaio said.