Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announces a program aimed at providing security around schools in Arizona in 2013. (Laura Segall/Reuters)

PHOENIX — Advocates for Latinos and others who protested President Trump’s appearance here Tuesday night returned to the venue Wednesday morning to decry the president’s suggestion that he was prepared to pardon convicted Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“He’s doing nothing but spitting in the face of the people in Arizona who have suffered through what Sheriff Arpaio has done to us,” said Carlos Garcia,  executive director of Puente Arizona, which advocates for migrant workers. “By pardoning Arpaio, not only is he erasing what he’s done to our people, but he’s tying himself to that legacy.”

In the midst of a boisterous campaign rally Tuesday night, Trump stopped short of announcing a pardon for Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

“So was Sheriff Joe convicted of doing his job?” Trump asked the crowd. “You know what, I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe should feel good.”

President Trump spoke about possibly pardoning former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio during a rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in July. (The Washington Post)

Arpaio, who was a vocal Trump supporter during last year’s campaign and is awaiting sentencing, told the Fox Business Network on Wednesday that he did not attend the rally because “I didn’t want to be the cause of any demonstrations, riots and that type of thing.”

Standing outside the convention center Wednesday, Alejandra Gomez, co-director of Living United for Change in Arizona, said it’s disturbing that Trump is “going to pardon a criminal.”

Gomez said protesters who gathered Tuesday night were sending Trump a clear message regarding Arpaio: “We want you to follow the law.” But she said she didn’t expect the president to take that course.

“He has demonstrated time and time again that he does not care what voters say, he does not care what the judicial system says,” said Gomez, whose organization advocates for low-income and minority families.

Trump  told Fox News last week that he was “seriously considering’’ a pardon for Arpaio and that he might do it soon, sparking speculation that he would use Tuesday’s campaign rally here to make the move.

Advocates who gathered outside the convention center Wednesday were also highly critical of the aggressive response of the Phoenix police to Trump protesters Tuesday night.

Crowds of protesters and supporters flocked to President Trump's campaign rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. Here's what they had to say. (Whitney Shefte,Jenny Starrs,Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Authorities in Phoenix defended the police response Wednesday, saying officers only began using pepper balls and gas to protect themselves from “a very small number of individuals.”

“This city failed us yesterday,” said Francisca Porchas of Puente Arizona.

Antonio Bustamante, a Phoenix lawyer who served as a legal observer on behalf of protesters, said the police department had overreacted to the small number of agitators who threw water bottles at armed police. He called what transpired “terrible police work.”