The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that it would not pursue criminal charges against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio or his office for abuse of power. Federal authorities also stated Friday that they have decided not to prosecute Arpaio’s alleged misuse of country credit cards by sheriff’s officials and alleged misspending of jail-enhancement funds.
Arpaio critics and immigrants rights activists were dismayed at the decision not to seek criminal charges, as they hoped the Justice Department would take action to curtail what they call an out-of-control sheriff’s office. Arpaio defended the decision at a Friday news conference, saying, “If I did something wrong there would be indictments floating all over the place…The bottom line is we were cleared and we should stay with that and not get into all the politics involved.”
Former U.S. attorney in Arizona Paul Charlton said that prosecutors had to measure the likelihood of proving any criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt. Charlton, however, stated that “the end of Joe Arpaio’s legal troubles is a long, long way away. He already has lost many legal fights. He has been found to have committed significant misconduct, not the least of which was the finding in the state bar proceeding regarding Andrew Thomas. And I think we will see more of those findings in the future.”
A significant pending legal problem for Arpaio is the civil case brought by a group of Latinos who have accused his Maricopa County office of systematic racial profiling. The plaintiffs claim that Sheriff Arpaio had an intentional policy of discriminating against Latinos, pulling them over strictly to perform immigration status checks. They also accuse the sheriff or basing regular traffic patrols and special immigration patrols not on reported crime but rather on racially charged complaint letters from Arizona residents. The group that sued Arpaio is not asking for monetary compensation, but rather for a declaration that the sheriff’s office has racially profiled and for an order that will make future policy changes to prohibit profiling.