As Texans braced for a storm that would deliver flooding unlike anything the nation’s second-most populous state had ever experienced, President Donald Trump prioritized.

.@MajorCBS: “The president pardoned Joe Arpaio tonight before he decided whether or not to sign a major disaster declaration for TX & LA.”

— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 26, 2017

According to Philip Rucker and Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post, the pardon had been months in the making and was “the culmination of a five-year political friendship with roots in the ‘birther’ movement to undermine President Barack Obama.”

While he was convicted of contempt for ignoring a federal judge’s order that he stop detaining people on suspicion of being undocumented immigrants, the cruelty of “Sheriff Joe,” as he’s known, has been well-documented for years. Here’s a sampling (many from the Phoenix New Times, a local alt-weekly that diligently kept tabs on Arpaio’s stunning behavior):

He forced inmates to live in a “tent city” where temperatures reached 135 degrees.

This is what Arpaio is perhaps best known for, and was something that garnered praise from conservative voters, as it was a workaround to having budget-strapped correctional facilities. But the Phoenix New Times caught him proudly referring to his “tent city” as a concentration camp, and then later lying about having done so.

He bragged about spending more to feed dogs than human inmates, and letting the inmates watch The Food Network to exacerbate their hunger.

It’s worth noting, as this 2009 New Yorker profile by William Finnegan does, that most of the so-called “criminals” in Arpaio’s jail were awaiting trial, and had not yet been convicted.

Prisoners in his jails died at alarming rates, with no explanation given.

The Phoenix New Times investigated the high rate of suicide in Arpaio’s jail, and also reported on his staff’s abuse of a paraplegic, how a stay in his jail caused a woman to lose her baby, and nearly killed a young man with Crohn’s disease.

He withheld resources for investigations of sex crimes.

Ryan Gabrielson recalled, in this piece for ProPublica, how Arpaio’s obsession with immigration resulted in hundreds of sex crimes going uninvestigated. (Gabrielson won a Pulitzer in 2009 with his East Valley Tribune colleague Paul Giblin for their reporting on Arpaio.)

“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” Trump told Fox News. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”

Trump’s assertion is at odds with our reporting. In the shift to full-time immigration enforcement, Giblin and I found that the sheriff’s police work faltered across the board in its mission to protect the citizens of Maricopa County. Detectives shelved dozens of sex crime cases without investigating them. By Arpaio’s own admission, the number of uninvestigated sex crime cases eventually swelled to more than 400. Many of the victims were children.

He arrested reporters for covering him.

For all that money he saved by depriving human beings of food, he cost Arizona taxpayers nearly $4 million in a settlement for the Phoenix New Times.

He staged a fake assassination attempt against himself, costing taxpayers more than $1 million.

His need for attention appears to be truly pathological.

He’s an inveterate liar, even about things that don’t matter.

In that 2009 New Yorker profile, Arpaio claimed he won a popularity contest that pitched him against Pat Tillman, a hugely talented football player who left the sport at the height of his career to serve in Afghanistan, where he was killed.

He did not win that contest.

Arpaio seemed jealous. “The Republic did a poll last week, ‘Who’s your hero?,’ and I beat out Tillman,” he said. He meant Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals football star who joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan. “I beat out all these guys. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying.” (The poll, published in May, actually shows Tillman as the winner and Arpaio as a runner-up.)

He’s a well-known anti-government extremist.

As Forbes reporter and anti-government extremism expert J.J. MacNab explained on Twitter, when Trump invited Arpaio to speak at the Republican National Convention, “he was using a bullhorn to attract a much larger and more dangerous group” than white supremacists.

His officers burned a dog alive for no reason, then laughed as the dog’s owners cried.

It’s impossible to highlight just one galling paragraph from this Phoenix New Times story, which includes the wholesale destruction of a home for the pursuit of a young man wanted for traffic violations.

He paid a private investigator to go after a judge who found him guilty of racial profiling.


He’s a fame stalker.

Not a crime, perhaps, but hardly the behavior of a righteous badass. See, for several examples, that 2009 New Yorker profile, sprinkled throughout with instances of Arpaio worming his way toward being close to celebrities, and commanding media presence at various cruel stunts.

And as Gabrielson notes in his ProPublica look back at Arpaio, the sheriff’s interest in illegal immigration is relatively new, and seemingly motivated by that pathological desire for attention:

He’d been uninterested in undocumented immigrants until 2006, when he seized on rising public anger over the issue, both locally and nationally. Once Arpaio was in the battle, he was all-in. Collateral damage accumulated quickly. By 2008, numerous U.S. citizens had been wrongly arrested by Maricopa County deputies, and several filed a federal lawsuit accusing the sheriff’s office of racial profiling.

The agency lost that case four years ago, but its remnants continue to imperil Arpaio today.