WHAT A long time ago it seems that Joe Arpaio was known as “America’s toughest sheriff.”
In November, he was soundly defeated for reelection to the post he had held for 24 years in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. This week his successor announced the closure of one of Mr. Arpaio’s signature projects, a sprawling outdoor tent encampment where inmates, compelled to wear pink underwear and striped jumpsuits, were regularly used as backdrops for the sheriff’s boastful disquisitions to the media. And later this month, Mr. Arpaio, a Republican, goes on trial for criminal contempt in a racial profiling case.
The toughness seeping out of him with each passing day, lately Mr. Arpaio has been reduced to asking the court not to allow his past campaign statements — full of bluster and mocking defiance of court orders — to be admitted as evidence, and to prohibit testimony from law-abiding Latinos who were illegally picked up in his notorious immigration sweeps. Oh, and Mr. Arpaio’s top lawyer has asked to quit, citing unspecified ethical conflicts that bar him from continuing to represent the former lawman.
It is a humbling end to an ignominious career, and a fitting one. Having made it abundantly clear in public statements that he regarded himself as above the law and beyond reproach, Mr. Arpaio now faces just reward for his arrogance and conceit.
The outdoor jail that was Mr. Arpaio’s marquee undertaking was a travesty. Ostensibly established to save money and deter criminals, who presumably would want to avoid sweltering in desert heat, it failed on both counts. In fact, closing the encampment will save taxpayers some $4.5 million annually. And in a recent study, the inmates there said they preferred the facility, the heat notwithstanding, to the cramped cells in conventional jails.
In announcing that the encampment would be closed, after 24 years, Mr. Arpaio’s successor, Paul Penzone, a Democrat, said, “Starting today, the circus ends, and the tents come down.”
Mr. Arpaio’s MO was humiliation and intimidation. Furious at the federal lawsuit targeting him, he struck back at President Barack Obama, becoming one of the leading voices of the “birther” movement and deploying a team of “investigators” to Hawaii with the intent of proving that the president’s birth certificate was somehow concocted. That failed.
Sensing the political advantage in harassing immigrants, he launched sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods, making his office and the deputies who worked for him agents for racial profiling. The sweeps continued for more than a year after a federal judge ordered them halted, as Mr. Arpaio expressed his contempt for the judge’s authority.
In the end, Mr. Arpaio was passed over for various prominent jobs for which he was said to have been a candidate in the Trump administration. Finally, it is the sheriff who has been humiliated, and rightly so.