Opponents of controversial Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) are hoping that a new super PAC launched last week and backlash from Arpaio's embrace of the birther movement will unseat the longtime lawman.
A bipartisan coalition of Phoenix-area politicos led by state Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) said that the new group, called Citizens for Professional Law Enforcement, will be a grassroots-based organization looking to raise funds and educate county voters about Arpaio's record, outside of immigration and jail issues. Gallego said he believes that while Arpaio is known for his immigration policies -- and support for the state's controversial immigration law, SB 1070 -- it will be Arpaio's decision to investigate President Barack Obama's citizenship that will be his downfall.
"I think the birther issue will have the most impact," Gallego told The Huffington Post. "SB 1070 has been an issue for years. The birther issue is something that is bipartisan in Arizona, across the board not popular."
Arpaio, who has been in office for two decades, is being challenged by Democrat Paul Penzone, who new polls show six points behind the incumbent. Gallego said the polling information is what he and his allies believe will give them an opening to bring down the sheriff. He also cited Arpaio's declining approval rating among county voters.
Gallego said Arpaio's use of tax funds for an investigation into Obama's birth certificate, during which he sent his "cold case posse" to Hawaii, will hurt the sheriff. The birther issue is part of the group's decision to label Arpaio as a poor manager of the sheriff's office. Though Arpaio is known for his tent city jail and his bare-bones jail conditions, Gallego points to 400 child sex crimes not being investigated by the office, while the president's birth certificate is.
"The citizens of Maricopa County are not that naive," Gallego said. "They know this sheriff is not a good administrator of his office. You can't be the sheriff of Maricopa County, one of the biggest counties in the country, and mismanage."
Arpaio was a federal drug enforcement agent and administrator before his 1992 election to the sheriff's office. Penzone is a retired Phoenix police officer.
The group has organized fundraisers in Arizona, Colorado and Texas, and is looking to build a grassroots coalition to bring down Arpaio, according to Gallego. Though he believes they will likely be outspent by Arpaio, noting their late start and Arpaio's advantage as a two-decade incumbent, Gallego said that if the group reminds voters of "waste, fraud and abuse" under Arpaio's watch, it can prevail.
The Arizona Republic reported in July that Arpaio had $6.8 million in his campaign account, with large amounts of donations coming from outside of Arizona. The report did say that Penzone had been doing better with donors from within the state.
Apraio's campaign manager, Chad Willems, said he and the sheriff are not worried about Gallego's group, noting that several other anti-Arpaio groups have been active and that Arpaio manages to defeat them.
"This is just another group out there of people lining their pockets," Willems told HuffPost. "It seems like a full-time employment group for these guys."
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Maricopa County Employees Call Latinos Derogatory Names
Jail employees frequently refer to Latinos as "wetbacks," "Mexican bitches," and "stupid Mexicans," according to the lawsuit. An email that included a photography of a Chihahua dressed in swimming gear with the caption "A Rare Photo of a Mexican Navy Seal" was widely distributed by sheriff's office supervisors.
Officers Mistreat Latinos In Routine Traffic Enforcement
The lawsuit recounts how a Latina woman who was five-months pregnant and a U.S. citizen was stopped as she pulled into the driveway. "After she exited her car, the officer then insisted that she sit on the hood of the car. When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, puled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then dragged her to the patrol car and shoved her into the backseat," reads the complaint. She was cited for failure to provide identification, which was later changed to failure to provide proof of insurance. The issue was resolved when the woman proved she had insurance to a court. In yet another case, two officers followed a Latina U.S. citizen a quarter of a mile to her home without flashing their lights. When she arrived home, they insisted that she stay in the car. The reason for the stop was a "non-functioning license plate light." After she tried to enter her home, officers took her to the ground, kneed her in the back and handcuffed her. She was brought to a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) substation and cited for "disorderly conduct," which was later dismissed, according to the lawsuit.
Latinos Are Indiscriminately Detained In Immigration Raids
A Latina born in the United States was taken into custody for four hours in a raid to determine her immigration status. Arpaio was quoted in response, "That's just normal police work. You sometimes take people in for probable cause for questioning and they're released." The suit notes that the reason for her detainment -- being Latina and present during a raid -- were insufficient.
Arpaio And MCSO Staff Foster Discrimination Against Latinos
Arpaio received a letter reading, "If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin. Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegals who are here illegally. ... I'm begging you to come over ... and round them all up." The sheriff labeled this as "intelligence" and forwarded to his deputy chief of enforcement operations for someone to "handle this." Upon receiving a letter backing the policy of "stopping Mexicans to make sure they are legal," he sent a letter of appreciation to the authors and kept three copies for himself, according to the lawsuit. An email circulated among MCSO staff had an image of a fake driver's license from "Mexifornia" and listed the driver's class as "illegal alien."
MCSO Employees Fail To Provide Assistance To Prisoners With Limited English
The failure to provide adequate language assistance caused some female Latina prisoners to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation, alleges the suit. Others have allegedly been put in solitary confinement for "extended periods of time" for not understanding a command in English.
MCSO Arrests Arpaio Critics Expressing Their First Amendment Rights
The suit claims on multiple occasions that people were arrested for merely applauding against the office's immigration policies. The judge presiding over the case of the arrestees found that the deputy who made the arrest "believes it is his role to make uncomfortable anyone who express[es] views that disagree with the sheriff" and that he had "trampled" over the First Amendment. The court acquitted them.