October 11th, 2010
12:28 PM ET

Arizona sheriff known for law-and-order style accused of abuse of power

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

Editor's note: Watch Anderson Cooper 360° Monday beginning at 10 pm ET to learn more about the allegations against Arpaio.

(CNN) - Make no mistake about it: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is tough on crime.

The popular lawman has built a reputation for taking a strong-handed approach to those who break the law in his county. Whether it’s a DUI, a violent crime or being an undocumented immigrant: commit a crime and get caught in Maricopa and you may find yourself wearing pink underwear and a black-and-white striped jail uniform while a part of a chain gang cleaning up county streets and sleeping in a hot, sweltering tent.

The sheriff scoffs at those who challenge his tactics, holding countless news conferences and media events intended to show the world the consequences of being a criminal in his part of Arizona. His approach has worked; Arpaio has maintained a high approval rating and has never seriously been challenged in any election.

But those CNN talked with say look closer and you’ll find that Arpaio uses the same force and tactics against criminals and against those he considers a political threat - including judges, politicians who challenge his views and even people like Don Stapley, who sits on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the local governmental body that approves Arpaio’s annual budget.

“Anyone who ruled against him, anyone who disagreed with anything he had to say, became a criminal target and criminally investigated,” Stapley said.

Stapley says a few years ago he questioned expenditures by the sheriff’s office including trips to a resort in Honduras by sheriff’s deputies. The next thing he knew, Stapley says, he was under a criminal investigation and arrested by sheriff’s deputies for failure to properly disclose property and finances on campaign finance records. All charges against Stapley were dismissed.

Maricopa County Budget Director Sandy Wilson says she asked for all county agencies to trim their budgets when suddenly she too was the target of a criminal investigation by Arpaio’s office.

“Who would have ever believed that the way about us - to stop us from doing our jobs would have been to go against individuals within my office, myself included, the county manager, criminally,” said Wilson whose investigation never made it past the grand jury stage for lack of evidence of any crime.

Arpaio’s office says all the investigations were legitimate, that investigators had probable cause and a duty to investigate; others call it intimidation and an abuse of power.

When asked by CNN whether Arpaio had abused his power by sending out his subordinates to investigate political opponents, Interim Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said absolutely not.

“I’ve been here for 32 years,” said Sheridan speaking on behalf of Arpaio who refused CNN’s request to be interviewed for this story. “I know the inner workings of this office. The sheriff was not involved in any of those mischievous things he’s been accused of.”

Paul Charlton is a former United States Attorney for Arizona who is now in private practice representing clients who say Arpaio is not only involved but he encourages the investigations.

“There are examples of time after time after time where this sheriff and the county attorney went after their political enemies,” said Charlton. “You can’t call this an aberration. We can’t call this recklessness or an accident. This is an intentional abuse of their authority and it ought not to happen in our country.”

Now, the investigations have turned on Arpaio himself. A federal grand jury is now investigating whether Arpaio, his chief deputy who is on a leave of absence, and a former county attorney used their powers to attack political opponents, according to some who have been called to testify during the grand jury proceedings.

The grand jury could announce its findings any day.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. joe

    His approach has worked; Arpaio has maintained a high approval rating and has never seriously been challenged in any election.

    says it all..

    October 12, 2010 at 4:27 am |
  2. patricia lumaava

    I do hope that they find anything on Arapaio and his cronies! I'm sure he's abusing his position in government! Arizona is full of corruption ever since they passed that law against immigrants. McCain is next along with the governor of the that god-for-saken state!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:18 am |
  3. Chris

    The old saying, looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and it is probably a duck. My guess is he encourages it, and since you are his employee, you darn well better do it. I think we all agree we want tough, but fair Law Enforcement, but this guy is out of control. Last time I checked the Sheriff's main duty is care of custody of incarcerated persons, and the investigation of crimes. I think the Sheriff forgot he is not above the same laws he is there to investigate.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:08 am |
  4. jesse

    Let's be frank. Is this surpriseing at all? Absolute power absolutely corrupts.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  5. Mark Miller

    Send him to his own jail.Make him sleep in those tents in the hot Arizona sun.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  6. james

    I think that the sherrif has more power than the city council. I believe that kind of power can corrupt.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:26 am |
  7. roger ellison

    Oh sweet irony. Throw the book at this "man".

    October 12, 2010 at 1:21 am |
  8. Chris

    No big surprise there .... This guy is reminds me of J edgar Hoover. SO when do we get to see him arrested already .

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 am |
  9. Tim

    This is all a ploy of the Obama-Osama administration to keep the good sheriff from enforcing immigration laws. You go Sheriff Joe. We love and support you!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  10. Deb

    His approach has worked based on an approval rating and not being challenged in an election? Shouldn't the approach be judged on something different than this? Crime overall has gone down in AZ, not something necessarily attributable to him, but what else can you use to say his "approach" worked?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:51 am |
  11. steve

    Let the Sheriff do his job!!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  12. Ronnie

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a hero ! I hope he investigates the grand jury !

    October 12, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  13. Steve

    Since Arpaio treats the accused in the same manner as he does the convicted, and he stands accused, Let him wear pink underwear with a 1000 calorie diet sleeping in a sweltering tent. Not going to happen, even if convicted however, unless the Feds althought a county prosecution, since neither Feds nor the state treat their prisoners in the manner Arpaio treats those awaiting trial much less those convicted.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  14. Randy

    Now, there's someone who belongs on a chain gang...

    October 12, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  15. Cheri

    It's about time that karma gets to this man. What he is doing is not only "abusing power", this is also harrasment and he too is breaking the law! Arpaio needs a dose of his own medicine, see if he likes to sleep under 100 degree weather wearing pink underwear.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  16. Joseph

    The guy is good at what he does, and Im sure nobody will be surprised if hes found to have been engaged in intimidation or even criminal activity. Im sure he feels righteous enough to do this sort of thing.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  17. Thomas in Vancouver

    If there is sufficient evidence to convict him of abuse of power, then remove him from office and put him in a federal prison outside of Arizona. If not, leave him be. I'm no fan of the man and his "Boss Hogg" attitude, but I'm also not a fan of politically motivated witch hunts.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  18. Rick

    Put the nazi thug behind bars. He lacks human decency and he is least qualified to be a law enforcement officer. Grand jury should make an example out of him so that no law enforcement officer thinks he/she is above the law. Th consitution is supreme in this country and everybody should follow the law of the land, be it the President or some county sheriff.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  19. Jessie Slaughter

    Oh snap! Arpaio, you done goofed up!

    October 11, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  20. Robert Martinez

    About time! i personally believe its time for someone to put this man in his place. i watched his debates and speechs and each time i get worried that he sees this position as his own play thing. He is a man who punishes those that wrong him, and then-some.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  21. paul cavanagh

    you can find these things to be true.every right wing group is make'n there play for power & were the 1's who pay the price.the problem is they think that they have to do these things.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  22. SusieB

    Dear CNN:
    Thank you for airing this important story about Sheriff Arpaio. As many citizens in Arizona know, the Sheriff is ruthless in advancing his agenda in our state. It is frightening to see his abuse of power toward public servants in Maricopa County and I am grateful to your network for exposing his actions on a national level.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  23. Daniel Calderon

    It's obvious he is abusing his powers. He uses taxer payer money to pay for pink outerwear just for his own justification?

    October 11, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  24. Dave

    Great job guys! The only Sheriff in the United States who actually treats criminals like they should be treated and you try and oust him from office. Elect a rapist or child molester for Sheriff next time so crooks can walk the streets knowing the jails that awit them will be nicer than their current residences.

    October 11, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  25. Dave Mercer

    I seriously believe it's one in a string of witch hunts directed at Sheriff Arpio and the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office. Some people's goal in life is to stir up trouble for people they hate or hate how business is conducted by those they hate. Sheriff Arpio and his office should be proud of the work they do and for doing whatever it takes legally to discourage people from re-offending, it's to bad all law enforcement doesn't follow his example. Bet there'd be alot less crime going down if they did.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  26. Frank Burke

    Arpio is a crook...he belongs in jail...

    October 11, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  27. Jason B.

    I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he's gone after people that try to "stand in his way". He's a royal ego-maniac.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  28. Lana

    This sheriff is sick! One or two investigations of opponents might be possible, but the number he has racked up is just too many for a coincidence. He needs to be stopped! The AZ Atourney General or the US Dept. of Justice should step in and investigate.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  29. Larry

    You failed to mention the recent 63 page memo from Frank Munnell, one of the upper management at MCSO, who detailed the many abuses of power of Chief Deputy Hendershott, Arpaio's right hand man, in the last 20 years, some of which bear directly on the investigations listed in your story. Simply stating he's on leave without stating why - he was placed on leave by Arpaio when the memo was disclosed, leaving Chief Sheridan as acting Chief Deputy - fails to tell the whole story. Please follow up on this and report the rest.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  30. Di

    Of course he did. I worked for the Maricopa Co for 32 yrs; 16 of those for the court. In the last 2 years the Sheriff failed to transport prisoners to court each day because he was spending the jail funds for his illegal immigration sweeps. And God forbid if the court protested that they didn't get prisoners on time, then his retaliation was you were last one on the list to receive them if at all. He's a crazy crook and it's about time voters realized it. They think he saves them money? HA! He has about 21 chiefs at the top of his organization. When I worked there years ago there were only 4 chiefs. The rest of the chiefs he has now are his protectors. But when all is said and done people will see and realize how much abuse of power, abuse of our tax dollars, and strong-armed tactics he has used to retain his power. What goes around, comes around. And his time and that of his protectors will be seen by the U.S. Attorney and the Justice Department.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  31. David B.

    This man should be indicted. The tough crime is still going on and many brown skinned people will be convicted because of his racism. I for one hope he is jailed for good.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  32. ed

    If its true that offiers abused there power then he shoud be tried like ant other person

    October 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  33. Bill Smith

    You forgot to mention that Maricopa County has the highest violent crime rate in the state. If this joker is so tough on crime, why is his jurisdiction where all the crime in the state takes place? Any reputation for toughness is undeserved, he's a thug that hides behind his deputies and his badge. I will enjoy it immensely when he's the one wearing the striped pajamas.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  34. edwin

    I hesitate to post, for fear of retribution... Well, not really - I don't live close enough to be in danger.

    But it was always clear to me that this man is more interested in his own power than in justice. His "no-nonsense" approach speaks of a person who believes in absolutes - everything is either right or wrong, no in-between.

    He believes he is right, so anyone to challenge him MUST be wrong - and therefore criminal. I suspect his corruption is not due to greed but to megalomania - which makes it all the more dangerous.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  35. james

    This guy is going down..he has been watched closely, and not by supporters.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  36. Gary M

    All I have to say is: this does not surprise me at all.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  37. D. Gallardo

    Arpaio is as petty, vindictive and filthy as they come. When all is said and done, hopefully he'll be in tent city sweating like a dog in the sun.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  38. KennethKrieger

    No he is honorable. Ken Krieger Cape Coral Florida

    October 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  39. Tammy Lambert AZ

    I have lived in Arizona since 1985, I'm he's not afraid to take on Arizona politians as well as hard core drug cartel. I like him and any poll taken at any time will tell you most Arizonians want him as Sheriff for these times.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  40. Keith

    The timing is pretty suspicious; This guy come out for enforcing the Arizona immigration law the Obama administration opposes and the Fed's are investigating him for stuff from decades ago. It seems the Obama camp are the ones using their power to criminally go after its opponents.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  41. Todd A

    While I am for being tough on crime, some of the stuff this yahoo does is just plain humiliating. But that is neither here nor there.

    No one is going to be able to say that this guy isn't playing dirty pool when the investigations are done. There is no way all the investigations he has ordered could be coincidential. Not to mention the fact that the charges were dropped in numerous cases and are pending appeal in every other one that resulted in a conviction.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  42. Gilda

    And this is a surprise?

    Arpaio always targets those who question his actions and the motive behind them.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
  43. gladyola

    It can't be too soon to say goodbye and good riddance to Arpaio. The same goes for those who conspired with him.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  44. Dave

    What conservative hasn't used their power to attack oponents? It's been a valued tradition since Watergate and before. Conservatives are bad people who's word cannot be trusted. EVER.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  45. Jeremy Richardson

    Did Sheriff Arpaio target political foes?

    Is the sky blue?

    October 11, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  46. Paul

    I can't believe a darling of the hard right would be a wing nut! Say it isn't so!

    October 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  47. Carl

    About time people started paying attention to how this egomaniac operates. He likes to portray this tough law and order image, but he is really a corrupt bully.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  48. Phillip Larchevesque Lar-sha-vek

    This is a man that believes he is a greater man than any other man, and/or woman.
    His "Good Old Boys" values stink-to-high-heaven of the abuse of power.
    Should he be investigated?
    What part of "Duh" don't you understand?

    October 11, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  49. Roscoe

    Arpio target political rivals? I'm shocked that there's gambling here.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  50. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Say it isn't so Joe.

    October 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
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