Roughly 100 opponents of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio turned out at a meeting of Maricopa County officials Wednesday to urge the officials to call for his resignation amid reports of botched sex-crime investigations and other problems in his department.
Critics of Arpaio — known nationally for describing himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” — say he must be forced out for failing to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases in the county, inappropriately spending $103 million from two jail funds over an eight-year period for other operations and leading failed corruption investigations against county officials who were at odds with the sheriff.
The Board of Supervisors didn’t act on the request to put a resolution calling for Arpaio’s resignation on its January agenda. The board has budgetary authority over the sheriff, but doesn’t have the power to fire Arpaio, who has refused recent calls for him to quit and still plans to seek a sixth term next year.
The board’s lack of power to fire Arpaio didn’t stop the sheriff’s critics from heaping on the criticism, nor did it stop a smaller number of Arpaio supporters from speaking up for him.
“What is your threshold for injustice?” asked Chad Snow, chairman of Citizens for a Better Arizona, a group that led the recall effort against former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce and recently launched a campaign to get other elected officials to voice their opposition to the sheriff.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Jerry Sheridan said the Arpaio critics are seeking his resignation based on misleading information about the sex-crimes cases and that the sheriff acted immediately to have 30 detectives investigate the cases after the problems surfaced.
“Police officers make mistakes. It’s not unique to the sheriff’s office. We are dealing with many issues throughout this county right now dealing with sex-crimes cases. One thing the sheriff did was take immediate action when he realized there was a problem,” Sheridan said, prompting many Arpaio opponents to cough loudly as he tried to finish his comments to the board.
The botched sex-crimes investigations have served as an embarrassment to a department whose sheriff is considered national hero to many conservatives on the immigration issue. Arpaio apologized for the botched cases last week after The Associated Press outlined some of them; the situation had been reported earlier by the East Valley Tribune, The Arizona Republic, KNXV-TV and other media outlets.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and two Democratic state legislators have called for Arpaio’s resignation. Arpaio’s re-election committee has said the calls for the sheriff’s resignation are Democrats who are opposed the sheriff’s immigration enforcement tactics.
Last week, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Jon Kyl said they were concerned about reports of the botched cases, though they didn’t ask for the sheriff to quit. Arizona’s two U.S. senators are Republicans, like Arpaio.
Arpaio’s office had to reopen 432 sex-crimes cases after learning of cases — including dozens of alleged child molestations — that hadn’t been investigated adequately or weren’t examined at all over a three-year period ending in 2007. Arpaio apologized for the botched cases last week.
Arpaio’s office has drawn criticism for spending $103 million in funds set aside for jail operations on other operations, such as some costs for immigration patrols and unsuccessful criminal investigations against county officials. Arpaio’s office investigated criminal cases against two county supervisors and a judge that collapsed in court before going to trial.
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the target of one of Arpaio’s failed investigations, said she wanted results of the sheriff’s examination of the bungled sex-crimes cases.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose prosecutors are trying to salvage the botched cases in hopes of bringing them to court, said he wasn’t going to call for Arpaio’s resignation. “Voters are going to have an opportunity to make a decision next year,” said Montgomery, who noted other police agencies in metro Phoenix also have cases in which investigators didn’t pursue leads and do adequate follow-up.
Linda Herrera, one of the Arpaio critics who called for his resignation, said the sheriff has been allowed to commit his abuses because elected officials haven’t been able to stop him or decided to ignore him.
“We are all responsible for what is going on in Maricopa County,” Herrera said.
Anna Gaines, an Arpaio supporter who launched an unsuccessful 2008 recall effort against Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, said the sheriff is responding to crimes committed by some illegal immigrants when they come to the United States. She said illegal immigrants steal people’s identities so they can work in the United States, don’t pay their share of taxes and use government benefits that are meant for U.S. citizens.
“It’s not the sheriff’s fault they came here illegally,” Gaines said.