On the same night that GOP candidate Donald Trump won the presidential election, America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff lost his bid for a seventh term in office. After repeatedly targeting Latinos throughout Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio had been charged with criminal contempt of court two weeks prior to his loss.
Notorious for violating federal laws against racial profiling, the 84-year-old sheriff has served in office for 24 years while becoming famous for dehumanizing pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. Although incumbents rarely lose re-election bids, Latino voters decided to stand against Arpaio’s rampant xenophobia as liberal investor George Soros contributed more than $2 million to his opponent’s campaign.
After the Department of Justice launched an investigation into allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures in June 2008, Sheriff Arpaio refused to cooperate with investigators. On September 2, 2010, the DOJ filed suit against Arpaio to compel his cooperation. Less than a year later, Arpaio conceded defeat and allowed federal investigators access to his staff and files. On March 24, 2013, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a decision in Melendres v. Arpaio that found Arpaio and his office in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Known for instituting female chain gangs and forcing male inmates to wear pink underwear, Arpaio is also responsible for severe overcrowding between convicts and pretrial detainees, denying inmates access to medical and mental health care, and providing only two meals a day that cost less than dog food. Denied access to toilet paper and soap, inmates have been forced to eat moldy bread, rotten fruit, and other contaminated food. In the case of United States v. Maricopa County, et al, the Justice Department accused Arpaio and his staff of forcing women to sleep in their own menstrual blood, assaulting pregnant women, ignoring rape cases, using racial slurs, and conducting widespread racial profiling.
On Tuesday, former Phoenix Police Sgt. Paul Penzone defeated Arpaio in a rematch of their 2012 run. This time Penzone received 54.9 percent of the votes, while Arpaio only ended up with 45.1 percent.
“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” Carlos Garcia, executive director of the advocacy group Puente, told The New York Times. “For us, what is most important now is to undo the damage and culture of hate that he has brought upon this county.”
Responsible for costing Maricopa County million of dollars in civil rights violation lawsuits, Arpaio can soon finally stop calling himself America’s toughest sheriff while awaiting a possible prison sentence for alleged criminal contempt of court.