Joe Arpaio likes to call himself America's toughest sheriff. But the Department of Justice reached a different conclusion last week about the lawman from Arizona's Maricopa County: He helped nurture a "culture of bias" in his department, it reported after a three-year investigation, that led to discriminatory behavior and "unconstitutional policing" that routinely violated the rights of Latinos.
The findings are hardly news to Latinos in that state, who were up to nine times more likely to be pulled over by deputies while driving than non-Latinos. The federal probe, first launched under President George W. Bush, concluded that Arpaio and his deputies illegally arrested and jailed Latinos and initiated immigration sweeps in response to complaints that simply referred to people with "dark skin" but made no mention of an actual crime. The report also said that in its zeal to prosecute immigrants, the sheriff's office may have failed to properly investigate 432 cases of sexual assault and child molestation.
It's a damning report, and the behavior it describes is a shameful throwback to a less enlightened era. And yet Arpaio's overzealous enforcement of immigration law is exactly what has attracted the attention of Republican presidential candidates, several of whom sought his endorsement earlier this year.