The Arpaio case: when to come down?

Should Sheriff Joe Arpaio be indicted for abuse of office? No doubt.
Before the election? That’s a harder call.

I’m sympathetic with the idea that Joe Arpaio should have been indicted years ago. Now that Arpaio’s prosecutor sidekick has been disbarred for what the a panel of the Arizona court system found to be “evidence … beyond a reasonable doubt” of “a criminal conspiracy,” the odds that there is enough to convict Shurf Joe have shortened enormously. [ Text of Arizona disbarment findings.] That makes me tend to agree with the four prosecutors who just issued a statement calling on Eric Holder to fish or cut bait.

Still, this isn’t a simple problem. Holder works for Barack Obama. Barack Obama is running for re-election, with Arizona in play. Arpaio is a  pillar of Arizona’s Republican establishment, and just pulled a “birther” stunt – covered as straight news by media outlets that should have known better - which might well have been designed to make an indictment appear to be retaliation.

The day Arpaio is indicted, the Shurf himself, with half of Wingnutistan on his side, is going to start howling about politicized law enforcement. And even his enemies have to admit that, on that topic, Arpaio is an accredited expert.

So if Holder has decided to hold the indictment until after Election Day, is that obviously the wrong call? For all we know, the indictment has already been handed up, and sealed. There’s simply no good timing for this sort of case, but just before an election is probably unusually bad timing.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

28 thoughts on “The Arpaio case: when to come down?”

  1. Wait– Eric Holder can prosecutes prominent people, not just government whistleblowers and medical marijuana dispensers? I really don’t think going after Arpaio is where he wants to get his start. Maybe a celebrity chef with a tax problem.

  2. I don’t see how anyone can deny charges of politicized enforcement, given the non-response to the Black Panther party publicly putting a price on somebody’s head. Which doesn’t, of course, mean that going after Arpaio would be political. The decisions TO prosecute can always be defended, what’s political is who doesn’t get gone after under this administration.

    1. I don’t see the relevance of your point about the New Black Panthers to this question, particularly since I don’t think they committed any federal or state crimes.

      1. Not to mention that Arpaio exists, and has victims galore, while the “New Black Panthers” is a couple of guys who’ve never noticeably done anything, and that no-one but Fox News and their victims has really ever heard about.

        1. Ah, but the myth of the New Black Panthers scared the crap out of Baron von Bellmore. That’s wicked and naughty and they must be punished, because.. well, someone has to pay for the Baron’s laundry! The fact that the New Black Panthers never actually do anything really isn’t the point.

        2. not to mention ^2 that Arpaio stands accused of EXACTLY THAT KIND OF CRIME: politicized enforcement. He and the former Maricopa county attorney brought false and unsubstantiated charges against theor political enemies in the County. This is why the other guy got disbarred. This is an open and shut case of criminal and civil malfeasance on Arpaio’s part.

          (on the other hand, the stuff the DOJ’s been investigating has been systematic civil rights violations related to his illegal sweeps of hispanic neighborhoods and the ongoing clown circus that is his ‘Posse’ with the likes of Steven Seagal joining in to arrest a guy for owning chickens.

    2. you mean like the war criminals that inhabited the bush administration and the bankers and financiers who almost pulled the global economy into a black hole? i think you’ve actually stumbled over the truth brett.

          1. i have to laugh. sometimes the way the threads of reply and counter-reply nest can be a trace confusing, and my comment was meant to be a bit provocative.

  3. Let Arpaio and the wingnuts howl.

    If Holder has a case, and it’s hard to believe he doesn’t, bring it. If the wingnuts don’t howl about that they’ll howl about the Black Panthers or something. Howling is unavoidable. When will Obama and Holder understand their enemies?

  4. I think it would be nice if we had a Justice Dept. that wasn’t very political. Why can’t that be a goal?

    And based on the track record so far, Mark, what evidence do you see that this might even possibly happen this year? What seems political to me is that it took this administration three long years to notice that their policies on Latinos are **horrible.** And ever so slowly start to address it. Now, that’s political. Isn’t it? I guess I’m not supposed to notice.

    1. Me. It was blatant politicization of something that might have been a crime in 2008, but is certainly not a crime in post-Citizen’s United. This looks to me to be on a par with the Siegelman mishegoss in Alabama: another Republican-appointed US Attorney looking to make his (or her) bones with the World of Wingnuttia.

      In response to Mark’s question of when Holder should put up or shut up, I say the day before yesterday was too late.

      1. Yes, but Edwards has certainly managed to look so shifty over the last few years that he might as well have indicted himself.

        1. It’s true he’s made some big mistakes. It’s pretty tawdry and tragic, the whole thing. And I wish I knew nothing about it, though I guess I’m glad he didn’t win, too. At least not in such a state of mind (I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned redemption story).

          I just think the charges are a stretch and that aide can’t possibly have much credibility. I predict an expensive and embarrassing waste of time for the DOJ.

    2. It’s indicative of a deeper problem: The criminalization of a lack of virtue. Someone offends cultural norms? Someone got a break you thought was undeserved? Find a way to put them in jail for it. Find a crime with which to charge a “bad guy”. That’s not how rule of law is supposed to work.

  5. If you’ve got a case, bring the indictment – and make sure that the Hispanic population is well aware that you are striking down Sheriff Pink Panties. The teabaggers will howl – but did you really think they were going to do anything but vote against the tyranny of the Muslim-Comunist-Fascist-Liberal-Scaryimperfectlywhitepersonist Usurping Kenyan? Force Romney to defend the repulsive corruption and racism of Arpaio’s regime – and see how he does with Hispanics after that. Bonus points if you can make Marco Rubio slither out of hiding to defend the Maricopa Maniac.

  6. Note that the electoral impact of the decision is only one aspect, and one that Holder’s oath of office requires him to ignore. The impact of the decision on the public standing of the Department of Justice is a different matter.

    1. On the other hand, how does it help DOJ’s standing to hold a possible prosecution over Arpaio’s head for months without acting? I despise Arpaio, but he’s entitled not to be held in that sort of limbo.

      Another issue is that if Romney wins a strong case against a very bad actor might disappear. Is that worth risking in the name of justice?

      1. How much time does it take to prepare a solid case?

        Up until recently, the DOJ was in negotiations w/ Arpaio to reform his department. When is a reasonable time for the stick to come out after the carrot fails?

        1. Why was there a carrot to begin with? Either the conduct was illegal or not. Since when is that negotiable? What a load of hooey, no offense to you, Mobius.

          1. Criminal defendants plead to lesser charges all the time.
            Bringing a sitting sheriff in to be tried in a politically charged environment is very risky, and the DOJ may not want incur those costs if they can.

  7. We’re still 6-7 months out from the election. Even if this causes the entire right wing to shriek with fury, there will be plenty of other distractions between now and November to make Arpaio a distant memory.

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