If someone asked if you would support a law that allowed local police officers with minimal cause, to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens for not providing legal documentation, what would you say? In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been doing just this for the last three years. This election cycle Arizona voters will be able to say definitively if they will still stand for this behavior.
For those who would support such types of enforcement measures, imagine for a moment the following: you are five months pregnant pulling into your driveway after a long day at work. A Sheriff's Officer pulls up, and without citing you for anything, asks you to sit on the hood of your car. It is hot, you are tired, and you refuse. The officer pulls your arms behind your back and slams you, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then drags you his patrol car and holds you in custody indefinitely. You are an American citizen who has just been detained for failure to provide identification.
This actually happened. After three years of investigation and countless second chances, the Justice Department finally issued a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The suit alleges that his office engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional conduct towards American citizens. This includes racial profiling, abuse in jail and blatant disregard for dispensing his sworn duties to protect and serve the people of Arizona.
Sheriff Joe executes the duties of his office based on his own twisted view of the law and an unquenchable thirst for publicity. In that regard he is more like a despot in a third world country than a democratically elected official in the United States. Outside of this lawsuit he has been accused of misusing federal funds, disregarding human rights in his "tent cities," chasing publicity by waging an investigation into the Presidents birth certificate all while failing to investigate over 400 sex crimes
His excuse for this flamboyant behavior has been his passion for enforcing the law. This zeal has mostly been limited to terrorizing low skilled laborers who may or may not be in the country legally. What the voters of Maricopa County did not know, and the DOJ suit makes very clear, is that in the process of "enforcing the law" his office trampled the rights of countless American citizens. In an election year the real question is, who in Arizona would re-elect a politician with so much political baggage hanging over his head?
To be sure the list of Sheriff Joe's supporters in Arizona politics grows shorter by the day. Russell Pearce the only state Senator in the history of Arizona to ever be recalled is gone. Sheriff Paul Babeu, Arpaio's chief disciple among law enforcement officials is embroiled in a scandal that has crushed his Congressional aspirations, Sheriff Joe's lawyer Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was recently disbarred in a federal abuse of power investigation. At this point Sheriff Joe stands nearly alone.
While many Maricopa County voters say Sheriff Joe is only doing his job, the contents of the DOJ lawsuit say otherwise. Another American citizen was followed to her home, and cited for having a "non-functioning license plate light." This infraction found her face down on the ground with a knee in her back and handcuffs around her wrist. Who in their right mind can defend such actions, let alone in good conscience continue to vote for an elected official who allows the abuse of pregnant women?
There is a strand in Arizona's political DNA which is fiercely independent, that looks at the federal government with healthy skepticism. That is fine. Sheriff Joe is skilled at playing to that impulse which needs to challenge the Government. No one is arguing that Sheriff Arpaio is not a shrewd politician. The voters in Arizona are good hard working people, they deserve answers. Sheriff Joe must answer for the abuse of a pregnant American citizen and countless others. Arizona voters have one question to ask themselves, what more can Sheriff Arpaio do before they stand up and make a change?
Follow Kristian Ramos on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kramos1841