The criminal conviction of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the ultimate repudiation of his tactics, but the fallout over his legacy is still being felt across Maricopa County.
The taxpayer cost from a racial profiling case that led to his conviction is expected to reach $92 million by next summer. People who were illegally detained when Arpaio violated a court order in the profiling case will still need to be compensated. And Latinos say his legacy lives on in the form of fear.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found Arpaio guilty of misdemeanor contempt of court July 31 for intentionally defying a 2011 court order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.
Arpaio was accused of prolonging the patrols for nearly a year and a half so he could promote his immigration enforcement efforts in a bid to boost his 2012 re-election campaign.
County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a longtime Arpaio critic, predicted that it will take years for the sheriff’s office to rebuild its trust with the Latino community.
“When you have a sheriff for 24 years who did everything to build divisions between the community and the sheriff’s office, it will take a lot of time and money to rebuild those relationships,” Gallardo said.
The verdict marked a final rebuke for a politician who once drew strong support from immigration crackdowns but was booted from office last year as voters got frustrated with his headline-grabbing tactics, such as jailing inmates in tents during triple-degree summer heat and making them wear pink underwear.
The 85-year-old retired lawman is set to be sentenced Oct. 5 and could face up to six months in jail. But attorneys who have followed the case doubt someone his age would be incarcerated.
His criminal conviction wasn’t enough to erase the trauma that Noemi Romero said she suffered when she was arrested by Arpaio’s officers on accusations of forgery and identity theft during a 2013 raid on a Phoenix supermarket. She used her mother’s identity to land a job as a cashier.
She spent two months in jail before she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served.
Romero, who was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents when she was 3, could not take part in a government program that would protect her from deportation because of her felony conviction.
But Arpaio being found guilty of a crime doesn’t necessarily mean justice was served, Romero said.
“To me, all the harm that he caused, not just to me but to many families, the separation of families, that’s something that’s never going to be repaired whether he gets jail time or not. That’s something that you’re never getting back,” Romero said. “All the trauma that he’s caused, you know, they can’t take that away.”
Arpaio, who plans to appeal the verdict, declined a request for an interview.
Jack Wilenchik, one of his lawyers, would not reveal how Arpaio was handling the verdict but emphasized that his client’s fate should have been decided by a jury, not a judge. The judge presiding over the racial profiling case recommended a criminal charge against Arpaio, and the criminal case later was handed off to Bolton.
“It’s simply not fair to have a judge of the same court initiate a prosecution for violations of an order and then trying a case on an interpretation of the order,” Wilenchik said.
The profiling case has already cost taxpayers $66 million for attorney fees, officer training and an alert system to spot problematic behavior by sheriff’s deputies. Over the next year, it will cost an additional $26 million, largely for adding officers to the effort to comply with a court-ordered overhaul of the agency.
The financial hemorrhaging is expected to persist until the sheriff’s office fully complies with court-ordered changes for three straight years.
Taxpayers will have to bear other Arpaio-related costs.
Immigrants who were illegally detained when Arpaio kept up his patrols will be able to seek money from the county government as compensation for harm they suffered. A court ordered fund of up to $500,000 to be set up to compensate Latinos who were wrongly detained.