PHOENIX (AP) — Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is taking a victory lap now that President Donald Trump has pardoned his recent conviction, giving political speeches, raising money and boasting he’s been vindicated following a politically motivated prosecution.
To people like Joe Atencio, the pardon for a misdemeanor contempt-of-court conviction ended the only real accountability for a lawman accused of a range of misconduct over his 24 years as metro Phoenix’s sheriff.
Atencio’s son was killed in a 2011 altercation with Arpaio’s jail officers, who were accused of shooting him with a Taser and beating him as officers held him down and he cried out in pain.
Atencio is among several people who say they were victimized by Arpaio and are upset at the pardon. They include Hispanic drivers, victims of sex crimes whose cases weren’t properly investigated, people whose loved ones died in his jails and political opponents charged with crimes after feuding with the sheriff.
“I was highly disappointed, and I’m a Trump supporter. That was devastating,” said Atencio, who believes the pardon was in return for the sheriff’s support during the presidential campaign.
Trump said Arpaio exemplified public service and protected the public from crime and illegal immigration.
Arpaio rejected criticism that the pardon was payback for supporting Trump, denied that the clemency allowed him to get away with a crime and groused that his opponents are dredging up years-old controversies.
“Why are these same people going back into my history when I have already been re-elected?” Arpaio said last week. He was defeated last year after six terms in office. “Why didn’t they fight me back then? This is old stuff.”
He said his critics would never cut him a break.
“What did I get away with? A misdemeanor? Is that what I got away with?” Arpaio asked.
The Associated Press interviewed several people who felt wronged by Arpaio after his pardon:
BOTCHED SEX-CRIMES CASES
Vikki Morrison is haunted by what happened to her 13-year-old daughter and how it was handled by Arpaio’s officers.
Her daughter’s rape was reported to Arpaio’s office. Deputies told her that they didn’t find her daughter’s account credible, and the suspect went on to attack her again and again over several years.
“If you would have known this was happening to a child and didn’t do anything about it, you’d be in jail,” Morrison said.
Her daughter’s case was among more than 400 sex-crimes cases that Arpaio’s office inadequately investigated or didn’t review at all over a three-year period ending in 2007.
An internal review attributed the failures to understaffing and mismanagement. A former supervisor in the sex-crimes squad said her investigators were pulled away to help with training and the immigrant smuggling squad.
Maricopa County agreed to pay $3.5 million in 2015 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of Morrison’s daughter. The man who attacked her eventually was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The Associated Press doesn’t normally identify sexual assault victims or their family members. But Morrison agreed to reveal her identity.
She said her daughter, who has developmental difficulties, has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Morrison described the difficulty of having to tell her daughter, now 24, that the president let Arpaio off the hook.
“How is that fair to any of the families going through this trauma? But the sheriff is going home every night,” Morrison said.
When Arpaio was convicted, Daniel Magos said he was elated because he believed the former sheriff had finally been held accountable for his actions. That changed with the pardon.
Magos, a Mexican native who became a U.S. citizen 50 years ago, was a key witness in a 2012 civil rights trial in which Arpaio’s officers were found to have racially profiled Latinos. Arpaio was found guilty of intentionally disobeying a court order in that case.
A deputy pulled over Magos in 2009, yelled at him and his wife and was slow to explain the reason for the stop.
Magos said the officer asked him whether he had drugs or guns in the truck, and Magos replied that he had a legal handgun on the floor. He said the officer humiliated him by patting down his groin area.
“My wife was witnessing all of this,” Magos said. “That’s what traumatized her — a guy with a gun searching me.”
The officer eventually said the stop stemmed from a license plate missing from the trailer Magos was pulling.
Magos wonders how the officer could have known because he was traveling in the opposite direction. He is confident he was pulled over because of his race.
Jaron Norberg’s son died a gruesome death in one of Arpaio’s jails in 1996.
Detention officers had forced Scott Norberg into a restraint chair and pushed his head into his chest after his arrest on suspicion of aggravated assault. A lawsuit claimed he was beaten and suffocated, and it led to the county paying $8.25 million to Norberg’s family.
Arpaio insisted his officers didn’t do anything wrong.
“Just the absolute disregard for the laws he was sworn to uphold — that, to me, is the most troublesome aspect of his 24 years as sheriff,” Jaron Norberg said.
Joe Atencio, whose son also died in jail, said the sheriff created a culture of cruelty. Norberg agreed.
Arpaio became popular for jailing inmates in tents amid Phoenix’s triple-digit summer heat, making them wear pink underwear and using them to work on old-time chain gangs.
Atencio rejects the notion among Arpaio supporters that jail is never supposed to be a pleasant experience.
“I would say that you shouldn’t have to die,” Atencio said.
Critics say the pardon removed the last chance to hold Arpaio accountable for criminal investigations of his political foes, arrests of journalists and misspending $100 million in jail funds.
A federal grand jury conducted a nearly three-year investigation into Arpaio’s public corruption investigations of county officials and judges who were at odds with him in legal and political disputes.
The federal investigation was closed in 2012 without charges. But Maricopa County paid $8.7 million to settle lawsuits from officials targeted by Arpaio on now-discredited allegations.
Among those investigated were then-Judge Gary Donahoe, who ruled against the sheriff in a legal dispute. He said the pardon dashed victims’ hopes of Arpaio finally being held accountable.
“It just denigrates everything that all these people have stood up for and sends a message that one person who is politically powerful is exalted above all these other courageous people who stood up to him,” Donahoe said.
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