There will be no justice, not even the poetic kind, as far as former Sheriff Joe Arpaio is concerned.
He will not be stopped and harassed for the way he looks. He will not be paraded before onlookers, forced to wear pink underwear or live inside a tent in triple-digit heat. He won’t, most likely, spend any time in jail over his recent conviction.
Those indignities and humiliations he visited upon others will never be atoned for. And, if President Trump follows through, Arpaio’s criminal record will always have a powerful caveat: He was pardoned.
This must not happen.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the president said he was “seriously considering” a pardon for the man once dubbed “America’s toughest sheriff.”
“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,” Trump told Fox. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
But he does. Even if the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office — which Arpaio headed for more than 20 years — undoubtedly protected people from crime and saved lives, the former lawman was found guilty of criminal contempt. He willfully violated a federal court order and must be held accountable.
That flouting of the law is what got Arpaio in trouble in the first place. The Justice Department launched a civil-rights investigation in 2008, alleging the sheriff’s office was engaging in discriminatory practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures in its enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Three years later, the DOJ accused the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of racial profiling in traffic stops and immigration sweeps and discriminating against Spanish speakers in county jails. By then, Judge G. Murray Snow of the United States District Court in Phoenix ruled the sheriff’s office could not stop and detain Latinos based only on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.
But the sheriff did not follow the judge’s ruling, continuing his immigration patrols for 17 months, according to U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who found him guilty of misdemeanor contempt of court late last month.
For Arpaio’s critics — who watched him stall federal agents, destroy records and duck investigations alleging misuse of jail funds and retaliation against political enemies — his ultimate conviction and re-election loss in November was cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.
Still, it may be colder than they thought.
A presidential pardon is “granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime,” according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice, but Arpaio is far from contrite, telling Fox News he “would accept the pardon because I am 100 percent not guilty.”
Legally, a pardon does not signify innocence, and in pardoning Arpaio the president may believe that he would only be rewarding an early supporter and signaling to his followers that he’s got their back. But in this case, a pardon for “Sheriff Joe” would send a clear message: Feel free to discriminate, to make people live in fear. Don’t let a little thing like the Constitution stop you.
Joe Arpaio acted as if he was above the law. Our president should not prove him right.