'Karma's a Bitch': Arizona Victims of Joe Arpaio React to Ex-Sheriff's Conviction

Angeles Maldonado, Raul Cordero, and Salvador Reza discuss former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt-of-court conviction outside of the federal courthouse in Phoenix on Monday.EXPAND
Angeles Maldonado, Raul Cordero, and Salvador Reza discuss former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt-of-court conviction outside of the federal courthouse in Phoenix on Monday.
Antonia Farzan

It's been 25 years in the making, but former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is finally paying the price for at least some of his misdeeds.

The six-term sheriff, who lost his bid for a seventh term in November, was convicted in federal court for misdemeanor contempt of court charges. He faces up to six months in jail at his sentencing hearing, set for October 5.

Arpaio's victims and detractors applauded Monday's ruling, but also lamented that it didn't come sooner, considering his past.

"I have mixed feelings right now," said Viridiana Hernandez, executive director of the Center for Neighborhood Leadership. "I feel relief and excitement because this is a community victory, but I'm also reflecting on all the pain and trauma that this person caused so many immigrant families like mine. When my dad's work was raided, we went into hiding, we abandoned our home, he was unemployed for years. Today, my family, like thousands of other families, will get some peace, they will get some justice."

Salvador Reza, a community organizer and civil rights activist who has battled Arpaio over the years, said the community he represents is "very happy" about the verdict, but "not completely satisfied because the culture of racial profiling that Arpaio created still exists."

He'd like to see Arpaio sent to the county jail to face the sort of conditions he imposed on pretrial detainees and inmates.

"I know people are going to say that he's elderly and he spent his life in law enforcement, but this is what happens when you disobey a federal judge," Reza said. "They should make him wear pink underwear and eat the foods that he served to prisoners."

Dan Saban, a former sheriff's office employee and former Buckeye police chief, spent parts of 12 years of his life trying to convince voters to pick him over Arpaio. For his efforts, he was made the target of a vicious smear job in which wealthy supporters of the sheriff were tapped to fund the production of an R-rated TV ad that was pulled from the air the day after it was aired.

The county became a better place after Paul Penzone won against Arpaio in November, Saban said. But "justice prevailed" with today's ruling by Arizona U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton.

"It was very detrimental to my family, especially my children — it was hardball," he said. Arpaio "consistently thumbed his nose to the constitution and liberty."

Former Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek said he hated to use an O.J. Simpson analogy, "but it's amazing someone could do so much, then get in trouble for something else. There are many victims."

Kunasek, formerly one of the five-member Board of Supervisors, can be counted among the people bullied and abused by the ex-sheriff.

In 2009, Arpaio and his then-political ally, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, hit the entire board — plus a roster of judges, lawyers, and county employees — with a bogus RICO lawsuit that ultimately was tossed out of court.

Kunasek was falsely accused the following year by Arpaio and his chief deputy at the time, David Hendershott, of stealing $15,000. But the charge was based on the fact that Kunasek had ordered the Supervisors' offices to be swept for illegally planted listening devices — which was actually a rational move considering the corrupt activities by Arpaio and Thomas.

Thomas was disbarred, but Arpaio — because he wasn't a lawyer — skated the abuse-of-power accusations. Kunasek received a $123,000 settlement from the county that covered his legal fees.

"The whole community was victimized by him," said Kunasek, who retired from the board last year after serving for 19 years. "It's justice for a whole series of bad acts. I think he purposefully had contempt against the court."

Another former Supervisor, Don Stapley, was arrested on trumped-up charges and made to do a "perp walk" for Arpaio's publicity machine.

Arpaio put Stapley's house under surveillance and, with Thomas' help, slapped Stapley's former executive assistant, Susan Schuerman, with unwarranted criminal charges. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk likened Arpaio's moves against Stapley and others to "totalitarianism."

"Sadly, I bought what he was selling for a few years," said Stapley, who later was awarded a $3.5 million settlement for the unethical actions against him. "Then I started standing up to him. ... They trailed me for months and staked out my house. It was sheer political terror. ... He did the same thing to dozens of perceived enemies. When I, as a Republican, went to my party leaders, people said, 'No, he's too popular. I said, 'Wait a minute. Don't you know what's going on?'"

Besides resolving the contempt of court violation, Monday's verdict helps atone for the raids on Hispanic communities, the "abuse of processes," and the tens of millions of dollars "wasted" by Arpaio, Stapley said.

"Nothing short of the six months in jail would be right," he said. "Joe Arpaio is a criminal."

Susan Schuerman, who received a $500,000 settlement from the county, said the contempt conviction was "short" of what Arpaio was actually due.

"No amount of money can repay for what he did to me," she said of Arpaio. "He ruined my career, he ruined my health, and he certainly took two and a half years out of my life that I'd like back. I'm glad he got something, but I don't think it was anywhere near harsh enough. I feel sorry for the county taxpayers."

"He's a lying, conniving, demented old man," Schuerman added in a biting tone. "Karma's a bitch."

Tom Irvine, one of the lawyers named in the RICO suit, said Arpaio has "been an abuser of power for years. ... I only wish the sentence wasn't limited to six months."

The victims are legion, Irvine pointed out. He encouraged those hurt by the former sheriff to write to Judge Bolton, tell their stories, and suggest a possible sentence for Arpaio.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the Melendres v. Arpaio case in 2017, said Monday's verdict means justice was served.

That case led to the contempt-of-court proceedings after Arpaio ignored a court order which told his office to overhaul policing practices and end racial profiling.

Cecillia Wang, the organization's deputy legal director, said in a statement, “This verdict is a vindication for the many victims of Joe Arpaio’s immigration policies, which were unconstitutional to begin with, and were doubly illegal when Arpaio flouted the court’s orders. Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way — no one, not even America’s so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law.”

The migrant justice advocacy group Puente Arizona said Arpaio's guilty verdict was a "historic" marker in the organization's fight against the "cruel and racist" former sheriff.

"The community has always known Arpaio is guilty," Puente said in a release. "He has always been guilty of racism and hatred, guilty of breaking families apart, disappearing thousands of people from their communities, and of a gross abuse of his powers. Unfortunately, today some of Sheriff Arpaio’s anti-immigrant practices are still in place."

Puente's Executive Director Carlos Garcia said in the statement that unfortunately, Arpaio's toxic legacy will endure.

“As long as ICE is in the jails, Arpaio is still in control," he said. Garcia called on Arpaio's successor, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, to end all collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Arpaio joins the ranks of other sheriffs who have run afoul of the law, including former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who was found guilty of obstruction of justice in March.


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