In countries like Iran we regularly see dissent brutally crushed and political enemies jailed. Yet here in Maricopa County, the sheriff and county attorney are behaving in similar fashion.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas use their popularity and the cover of law to embark on a reign of legal intimidation. The list of political opponents and retribution keeps growing.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, an outspoken Arpaio critic, was visited by sheriff’s deputies. County supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox were under questionable indictments. When Wilcox’s attorney, Colin Campbell, publicly rebuked the charges, he too was visited by sheriff’s deputies. Attorney General Terry Goddard, who might logically step in, is also a target of investigation by the sheriff and county attorney.

There’s more. Citizen activists who earlier criticized the Sheriff’s Office at Maricopa County supervisor meetings have been arrested while peacefully standing outside the premises, and, in a separate case, for applauding during public comments. In acquitting them, the judge called the charges, “malicious and without probable cause.”

As federal civil-rights case Ortega Melendres vs. Arpaio moves forward, we’ll find out whether U.S. citizens improperly arrested during immigration-violations sweeps by the Sheriff’s Office had their Fourth Amendment rights violated, and whether the Sheriff’s Office has systematically engaged in racial profiling.

Ultimately, the courts and federal government can help check these abuses of power. But the most important check lies at the ballot box. After being handily re-elected in 2008, we have to wonder whether, next time around, voters will give Arpaio and Thomas their pink slips.

 

David Wells is a senior lecturer and Interdisciplinary Studies associate faculty director at Arizona State University. He holds a doctorate in political economy and public policy. He is a policy analyst for the Arizona Leadership Institute. The article originally appeared in the American Forum, a nonprofit organization of community activists. For more information, visit www.mediaforum.org.

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