The Friday Surprise: Donald Trump Pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Gage Skidmore

Gage Skidmore

President Donald J. Trump granted a pardon to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the White House announced late Friday.

The announcement cited Arpaio's "selfless public service" and "his life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration."

In a tweet, Arpaio said he was "humbled and incredibly grateful to President Trump. I look forward to putting this chapter of my life behind me and helping to #MAGA."

He also thanked Trump for "seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers from the Obama administration."

The pardon brought an immediate response from Josselyn Berry, executive director of Progress Now Arizona.

"It’s unbelievable. It’s 5 o'clock here in Arizona on Friday in the middle of a category 5 hurricane in Texas — I think it's the definition of a Friday news dump," she said. "It's pretty cowardly to dump that right now — especially what happened on Tuesday night."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton tweeted that Arpaio "illegally targeted and terrorized Latino families. Our community voted him out of power. Donald Trump can't change that."

But Governor Doug Ducey in a statement praised Arpaio's long career in law enforcement, and noted: "The president clearly has pardoning powers under the United States Constitution, and with this action, he has brought finality to this chapter in Arizona's history. Sheriff Joe is my friend, and now he, Ava and their family can move on and enjoy their retirement together.”

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Donald Trump hinted at a pardon for Arpaio on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
Evan El-Amin/
During Tuesday's presidential visit to Phoenix, Trump hinted during his speech he may deliver a get-out-of-jail-card for Arpaio.

At the end of July, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for showing "flagrant disregard" toward a court order ordering his agency to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Trump said Arpaio was convicted for "doing his job."

“I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine,” the president continued Tuesday night. “But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy.”

Regardless of the mixed messages, Arpaio's legal team said it appreciated the president's comments but still wants a new trial, defense attorney Mark Goldman said in a statement this week.

"Sheriff Joe is my friend, and now he, Ava and their family can move on and enjoy their retirement together.” — Governor Doug Ducey.

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"Like him or dislike him, the trial court deprived the sheriff of his constitutional rights — constitutional rights that make America great," Goldman said in a statement to the New Times. "In America, we're not supposed to prosecute and convict people because of their politics, but rather based on evidence and the law."

Since Arpaio's conviction, his defense team has motioned for the six-term sheriff to be acquitted and awarded a new trial. His legal team argues that Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office weren't ignoring the court order, but rather they misunderstood the directions.

The trial was dramatic from the beginning, with Jeff Sessions subpoenaed, a witness dead, and Arpaio's former lawyer testifying against him — and that was all day one. But Arpaio is nothing without a little flourish, right?

Despite all these distractions, the verdict felt like a victory for many Latino community leaders as well as victims of the MCSO's profiling. While some celebrated Arpaio's end, others mourned those who were hurt in the process.

The general consensus, though, was "Karma's a bitch."

However, the legacy of Sheriff Joe wasn't over just yet for local grassroots organization United Liberty Coalition. Not until it met their Constitutional litmus test at least.

"A citizen's rights were violated," coalition member Shelby Busch said. "Every American should be furious by that."

Through social media, the group spread a letter-writing campaign requesting a pardon
from Trump weeks before the president's Fox News interview. The Facebook post reached more than 2,500 views, according to the group's Facebook page.

University of Arizona constitutional law professors Toni Massaro and Andrew Coan said a pardon at this stage would be totally legal given that the verdict was given by a federal judge.

Granted, Trump would be overlooking all of the everyday folk who applied for clemency — a grueling process of paperwork that often takes years, if it ever happens. But special treatment for celebrities wouldn't be new to Trump or any of his predecessors.

The fact that Arpaio hasn't even been sentenced doesn't change a thing. Coan pointed to another infamous president's example and mentioned that President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before any charge was brought against him.

For some, this pardon is seen as just. The United Liberty Coalition still maintains that Arpaio's verdict was a violation of the Sixth Amendment after Judge Susan Bolton denied Arpaio a jury.

"When we look at the details of the case pertaining to the former Sheriff, it is important that we focus not on emotions or preference, but on the constitutionality of the case," Robinson said in a statement to the New Times last week.

Robinson and Busch were honest about how hard the decision to defend Arpaio was for the group. In the end, they stuck to their roots and followed the Constitution to the letter.

"A victory today might be a huge loss tomorrow," Busch said.

Arpaio's defense team feels similarly. This case is about constitutional rights, not racism, attorney Mark Goldman said last week.

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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty
Lindsay Moore