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Laura Merriman Headshot

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Invited to Speak at the Republican National Convention Despite Shameful Record

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One of the United States' cruelest elected officials, Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, will speak to delegates at the Republican Convention on August 30th as he and the State of Arizona have been some of our nation's loudest voices against undocumented immigration. Arpaio's infamous Maricopa county jail is home to Tent City, which the sheriff has described as a "concentration camp". On July 3rd, 2011, the temperature inside the outdoor tents hit 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which Arpaio measured himself, so hot that inmates' shoes were melting. All of Tent City's 1,400 detainees are non-violent criminals who are doing time for offenses like driving under the influence and other traffic violations. This past July, Raymond Farinas died in Sheriff Arpaio's jail. Raymond's family suspects that he was beaten to death as his body was swollen and bruised, although Arpaio's detectives claimed that Farinas choked on a sandwich. He is one of many inmates who have died under Arpaio's watch.

Arpaio has been the target of 2,150 lawsuits in the U.S. District Court and hundreds more in Maricopa County courts between January 2004 and November 2007 alone -- that is 50 times as many prison-conditions lawsuits as the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined. Maricopa County has had to pay millions of dollars in settlements to the families of individuals who have lost their lives or sustained serious injuries in Arpaio's county jail.

In March 2012, another lawsuit was filed stating that Arpaio's jail does not meet inmates' medical and mental health needs after more than 33,000 ill inmates were refused care, being told to instead pray to be cured. In 2005, the jail's nurses did not give inmate Deborah Braillard insulin, although their heath records showed that she was diabetic. Detention officers ignored her as she went into diabetic shock; Braillard died from lack of insulin. The lawsuit also alleges thatmultiple inmates have killed themselves, despite doctor's warnings that they should be on suicide watch. Other inmates have been beaten or neglected to the point of death by Arpaio's staff.

In 1996, Jose Rodriquez twitched and suffocated in his own vomit on a jail floor as Arpaio's jailers ignored his, and other inmates', cries for help as he succumbed to fever and dehydration. Later that year Scott Norberg suffocated while being detained in one of Arpaio's restraint chairs. Surveillance cameras showed Arpaio's detention officers gagged him with a towel, beat, and tasered him. Arpaio later lost an $8.25 million settlement to his family.

After mentally retarded Charles Agster III was arrested for trespassing in 2001 and placed into Arpaio's custody, detention officers slammed him so hard into a restraint chair that he went brain dead and was pronounced dead three days later. His family was awarded $9 million by a federal court in 2006.

While serving a short sentence in Tent City for shoplifting in 2005, legally blind Brian Crenshaw was transferred to solitary confinement after a scuffle with Arpaio's detention officers. He was found comatose six days later with a broken neck, ruptured intestines, broken toes, and severe internal injuries, resulting in his death. Arpaio espouses that Crenshaw had fallen from his four-foot bed. In 2005, Clint Yarbrough suffocated in his restraint chair. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved an undisclosed settlement to his family that exceeded $1 million.

The following year, paraplegic Richard Post died of asphyxiation while cameras caught prison guards laughing as they abused him. The lawsuit also maintains that prison medical staff let an inmate's cancer metastasize in his stomach until it reached the size of a full term pregnancy. In early 2012, jail security cameras showed a military veteran thought to have been struggling with schizophrenia being killed by Arpaio's officers.

The day President Obama announced in June that children who had arrived in the United States before age sixteen would no longer be deported, Arpaio detained a six-year old girl he claims entered the country illegally.

It is inconceivable that Arpaio's jail continues to operate despite countless instances of reckless inmate endangerment and prison conditions we would expect from the worst human rights dictatorships and not in the backyard of the world's largest democracy.

Instead of Arpaio's jail being closed down and him being brought to justice, or imprisoned, for severe human rights violations, Arpaio is being trumpeted as the Republican Party's anti-immigration hero although this summer he has been in court for allegations of racial profiling and under federal investigation by the Justice Department for the violation of Latino's civil rights. Arpaio's response? "I'm not going to surrender my office to the federal government... They're using me for the Latino vote."

Beyond looking into whether or not Arpaio partakes in racial profiling (he most surely does), our country needs to wonder why the Republican Party is trumpet a man who has been implicated in so many inmate deaths, who proudly boasts of "concentration camp" conditions for non-violent (or for that matter, violent) offenders, and who would incarcerate a six-year-old girl. Arpaio is the one who should be behind bars.