How tough exactly is America’s toughest sheriff? The country is about to find out. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been slammed by a set of damning reports in the last week that allege the Arizona sheriff misused $80 million in taxpayer money. The report, released on Wednesday, prompted the Board of Supervisors to place the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under budget restrictions. Maricopa County Board attorney Tom Irvine called the findings the “biggest misspending of state funds in the history of Arizona.”
Last week one of Arpaio’s own deputy chiefs released a 63-page memo charging Arpaio with allowing MCSO’s corruption and abuse to infect the entire department.
Both reports have been directed to local and federal authorities for further investigation, and the typically chatty Arpaio’s stayed mum, letting county spokespeople do the talking for him.
“The $80 million figure, I think, is pure hyperbole, and I thought it was a vicious attempt to make Sheriff Arpaio look like he’s a poor manager,” Interim chief deputy Jerry Sheridan told the Arizona Republic.
The Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget combed through years of financial reports and found that Arpaio had been maintaining a shadow records system to hide the fact that his department was spending millions from a taxpayer-fund public-corruption probes of Arpaio’s critics and immigration sweeps. The voter-approved jail fund was set up in 1998 for guard salaries and jail expansion, but had been squandered on unrelated expenses. New America Media reports that the county board found other unexplained expenses, including money spent on hotels and meals and trips abroad, including a stay at the Disneyland Yacht Club Resort.
Arpaio is famous for his gratuitously cruel stunts like forcing inmates to live in open-air tent cities in the 100 degree Arizona heat, and serving inmates spoiled food and outfitting prisoners in outdated prison stripes and pink undies, true. But he’s also most notorious for his liberal interpretation of his powers to interpret immigration policy and physical abuse of inmates. In 2007 Arpaio’s department was singlehandedly responsible for a quarter of the 115,841 deportations that resulted from 287(g) roundups of immigrants. The city of Los Angeles came in a distant second with fewer than half the number Arpaio was responsible for. Female inmates in Maricopa County are forced to give birth in chains—a not unusual practice at jails all over the country—but officials there have also been charged with physically assaulting inmates. More than 500 detainees and inmates, fed up with the treatment, led a month-long hunger strike in May 2009 in protest.
And yet, today the Wall Street Journal reported that a federal audit by the U.S. Marshals Service gave him a positive review and found that he treats his inmates fairly and humanely.
The Department of Justice sued Arpaio in September for refusing to cooperate with its investigation into Arpaio’s jails and policing. The DOJ is investigating allegations Arpaio abused his power and violated the civil rights of suspects and prisoners.