President Donald Trump pardoned the controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday.
Arpaio, 85, was convicted last month of criminal contempt for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop traffic patrols targeting immigrants.
Known as ‘America’s Toughest Sheriffs’ he had yet to be sentenced but was facing up to six months in jail.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon,” a statement released by the White House said
Arpaio campaigned heavily for Trump, 71, in 2016, including giving a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he said Trump would stop immigrants from coming into the country illegally.
Trump has in turn praised Arpaio for his extreme immigration stance and tactics, which included the jailing of illegal immigrants in tent cities, the reduction of meal costs to 20 cents per day, and chain gangs for women inmates.
The White House statement announcing the pardon commended Arpaio’s determination to protect the public “from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”
Trump said at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Tuesday night that he was trying to avoid “controversy” by not immediately granting the pardon. But he hinted that it would come soon.
“So was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump asked the crowd. “You know what, I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe should feel good.”
As Maricopa County’s sheriff, Arpaio quickly became infamous for his unorthodox policies, including making inmates wearing pink underwear (“Why give them a color they like,” he once said.), and live in outdoor “tent cities” despite scorching heat. Before becoming sheriff in 1993, Arpaio served in the U.S. Army and later as a police officer, a federal narcotics agent and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration for Arizona.
In 2008, federal officials began investigating Arpaio’s office for potential civil rights violations, which was launched under former President George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that Arpaio’s officers racially profiled Latinos.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found the sheriff’s office engaged in systemic racial profiling of Latinos in its anti-illegal-immigration efforts. Snow ordered the agency to stop detaining people solely on suspicion of being undocumented. After Arpaio defied the judge’s order and had his deputies continue to target people based on the undocumented status, he was charged and convicted of criminal contempt of court in late July.