(Washington, DC) – While most people were glued to their televisions and social media sites following Hurricane Harvey’s destruction on Texas, Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is the former Arizona Sheriff whose aggressive efforts to hunt down and detain undocumented immigrants landed him with a criminal conviction.
The New York Times reports, Mr. Arpaio, 85, served for 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix , building a national reputation for harsh conditions in his county jail, and for his campaign against undocumented immigrants.
Mr. Arpaio had touted himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” making inmates wear pink underwear and serving jail food that at least some prisoners called inedible. He was also at the forefront of the so-called birther movement that aimed to investigate President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The criminal conviction grew out of a lawsuit filed a decade ago charging that the sheriff’s office regularly violated the rights of Latinos, stopping people based on racial profiling, detaining them based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally and turning them over to the immigration authorities.
In 2011, a federal district judge hearing the case ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop detaining people based solely on suspicion of their immigration status, when there was no evidence that a state law had been broken. But the sheriff insisted that his tactics were legal and that he would continue employing them.
He was convicted last month of criminal contempt of court for defying the order, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
The pardon is unusual in several respects, according to an Associated Press analysis:
- Mr Arpaio did not submit an application through the Office of the Pardon Attorney
- His pardoning took place before he was sentenced (sentencing had been set for 5 October)
- He was pardoned for a misdemeanour offence, which carries a penalty of less than a year in jail, when generally those seeking a presidential pardon have been convicted of felonies
Its timing also raised eyebrows, coming on the eve of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, barreling down on coastal Texas. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, accused Mr. Trump of “using the cover of the storm” to pardon Mr. Arpaio and to issue a formal ban on transgender people from joining the military. (The ban also gives the secretary of defense wide latitude to decide whether currently serving transgender troops should remain in the military.)
“The only reason to do these right now is to use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny,” Mr. Schumer said in a series of tweets late Friday. “So sad, so weak.”