Racial profiling, wrongful death, political witch hunts. These are among the more common themes to Maricopa County, Arizona’s infamous sheriff Joe Arpaio’s dodgy legacy. Though his ‘get tough’ antics and often barbaric approaches to criminal justice, Arpaio has made himself and his department the target of scorn and scrutiny by civil rights leaders and social justice advocates nationwide.
Now, new documents are showing that a four-year lawsuit over what plaintiffs claims was a politically motivated series of criminal investigations by Arpaio and an ally in the county attorney’s office, cost taxpayers roughly $50 million in legal costs and fees.
The cases and disputes between the Sheriff’s office and county officials have been ongoing since 2006, surrounded an investigation into Arpaio’s political enemies which resulted in the case of County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, with 44 felony charges being filed, all of which were dropped in court. The latest $50 million tab for Arpaio related litigation comes following a series of high profiles cases involving racial profiling and inter-departmental bullying which were similarly costly.
As a result of a ruling against his department over their racially based immigration checks, Arizona taxpayers were put on the hook for roughly $22 million to ensure appropriate supervision and compliance with court orders by Arpaio and his deputies.
In addition to these costly well publicized issues of racial profiling carried out under the auspices of immigration enforcement, Arpaio and his cronies have also been sued over what plaintiffs – both county officials and fellow law enforcement - claim were politically motivated police investigations on trumped-up or imaginary charges, costing taxpayers an additional $4.2 million.
Adding to this, two separate wrongful death suits related to his treatment of suspects and prisoners in his custody who died allegedly, as a result of either neglect or abuse at the hands of Maricopa County Sheriffs, which cost a combined $11.5 million in settlements, the total annual cost to Arizona taxpayers for this single Sheriff seems to be on a perpetually upward trend.
A steep price in a time of shrinking budgets and deficit hysteria and one made even steeper when the human cost of such a brutal and inhumane approach to law and order is added in. Though praised as a true American and patriot by nationalist, ‘get tough’ conservatives, Arpaio’s treatment of county prisoners and utter contempt for civil rights has drawn more comparisons to Soviet era gulags than the range riding cowboy marshals that many of his fans attempt to portray him as.
This past week, Arpaio grabbed headlines again when he announced that he would be putting inmates on a twice daily bread and water diet, as punishment for the desecration of American flags he installed in their cells.
Though many of Arpaio’s often militant supporters will call the additional costs the result of frivolous lawsuits, they are consistently at a loss to defend the gross and overreaching assumed authority that the controversial lawman contends to posses. Presently Arpaio is seeking legal recourse to pass the costs in defending his practices on to the federal government, apparently believing that all of America should pay for his actions and legal defense.
While these and numerous other legal matters surrounding his department continue working their way through the courts, the one thing that is for certain is that presently at well over $50 million at this point, the true financial cost for Sheriff Joe’s abuse of power still has yet to be realized.