Former convict Joe Arpaio wants to be sheriff again

"Watch out world! We are back!"

Sheriff Joe Arpaio attends a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 4, 2016, in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
(Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Sheriff Joe Arpaio attends a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 4, 2016, in Prescott Valley, Arizona. (Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff previously convicted of contempt of court, wants his old job back.

“On this day, August 25, 2019, after consultation and approval from my wife of 61 years, Ava, I have decided to run to be reelected Sheriff,” he said in a statement. “Watch out world! We are back!”

Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump in August 2017. He is now running for the same office he used to illegally target and jail Latinx people in an abusive “tent city” that he himself once described as a “concentration camp.

Over the course of 20 years, detainees in the camp were left to swelter in dangerous temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. During the winter, inmates were exposed to the elements and not allowed to wear insulated clothing. People detained in the tent city told reporters of broken fans and a lack of cold water; they said it became so hot, their shoes melted. The camps were surrounded by electric fences.


“I was in the tents when we hit 120 [degrees],” one former inmate, Francisco Chairez, wrote for The Washington Post in August 2017. “It was impossible to stay cool in the oppressive heat. Everyone would strip down to their underwear. There was no cold water, only water from vending machines; and eventually, the machines would run out. People would faint; some had heatstroke. That summer, ambulances came about three times. One man died in his bed.”

Arpaio made it a practice to humiliate the detainees at the facility. In 2009, he paraded hundreds of Latinx immigrant detainees picked up on non-violent offenses through the city streets from the county jail to the tent city.

In 2008, the Justice Department launched an investigation into claims that Arpaio had illegally used racial profiling to detain Latinx people. A 2011 report by the department’s Civil Rights Division found Arpaio’s deputies frequently used racist language when discussing Latinx inmates. The 22-page document also outlined how Arpaio’s office had engaged in “unconstitutional policing” and established a “pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” extending to the “highest levels of the agency.”

Arpaio denied the racial profiling charges, though the Maricopa County board of supervisors later voted to settle portions of the DOJ’s subsequent lawsuit against the sheriff’s office over the matter.

In December 2014, a federal judge wrote to Arpaio, who was refusing to comply with a previous court order to stop racially profiling, warning him that he faced possible contempt of court charges. In March 2015, Arpaio admitted to violating that court order, and in October 2016, following an investigation, federal prosecutors announced plans to charge him with criminal contempt of court.


Arpaio was found guilty of contempt in July 2017. Two months later, while facing a sentence of up to six months in jail, he received a presidential pardon from Trump.

Arpaio’s history of alleged abuse were chronicled through exhaustive investigative reporting by a number of outlets, including The Phoenix New Times, which won a $3.75 million settlement after the sheriff arrested one of its reporters for covering him.


He was apparently a profoundly ineffective sheriff: A 2011 investigative report alleged that Arpaio’s office had failed to investigate over 400 alleged sexual assault cases reported to his office, including dozens of child molestations between 2005 and 2007 alone.

Between 1996 and 2015, the New Times reported, at least 39 people hanged themselves in Arpaio’s jails. Of the nearly 160 people who died in jail under his watch, 24% committed suicide, while dozens of others died without explanation.


In 2012, the same day President Barack Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Arpaio arrested a 6-year-old child during an immigration sweep.

Arpaio is also a supporter of Trump’s racist “birtherism” conspiracy theory, which claims that Obama was not born in the United States, but forged his birth certificate in order to become president.

Arpaio’s targeted, cruel treatment of immigrants and Latinx Americans has notable parallels to the way the Trump administration has treated immigrants in federal detention centers. Among other things, the administration has forcibly separated families, placing adults, children, and infants in “inhumane” and overcrowded facilities without basic resources like beds, toothpase, or soap.