Image: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Ross D. Franklin  /  AP file
A federal grand jury is investigating Sheriff Joe Arpaio over abuse-of-power allegations and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation of Arpaio's office and examining jail policies that discriminate against people with limited English skills.
updated 5/12/2011 7:10:04 AM ET 2011-05-12T11:10:04

Critics of America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff on Wednesday called for his resignation and for the federal government to indict him and take control of his office amid allegations of corruption, racial profiling and misspending.

The call for action comes after a recent investigation revealed evidence of corruption among Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's top commanders, and emails cited in court documents showed that top deputies circulated offensive jokes about Mexicans even as they were being scrutinized over allegations of racial profiling.

"We're the laughing stock of the world," said Salvador Reza, an organizer of a local immigrant rights group who joined County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a state representative and others at a news conference where they called for Arpaio's resignation.

Asked whether he would resign, Arpaio — widely known for his department's crime and immigration sweeps — told The Associated Press: "Never."

"I have no fear about what these people want," he said. "I think we've done a pretty good job in the sheriff's office. There's always bumps in the road sometimes, but when they come about I take immediate action."

Video: Arpaio: Feds should thank me, not sue me (on this page)

Arpaio fired two top aides last month following a misconduct investigation by another local sheriff's office. A heavily redacted report portrayed one of the aides, former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, as a manager who cut corners in criminal investigations and tried to bully colleagues who objected to his orders.

The group calling for Arpaio to resign says the report shows that at best, Arpaio is an incompetent manager if he didn't know about the alleged corruption, and at worst, that he was perfectly aware of it.

Arpaio said he did not know about it, is responsible for 15,000 employees and delegated a lot of responsibilities.

Video: Lockup: Maricopa County: Heatwave - Tent City (on this page)

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said he found no evidence that Arpaio knew what was going on among his command staff and placed much of the blame on Hendershott.

A federal grand jury also is investigating Arpaio over abuse-of-power allegations, and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation of Arpaio's office and examining jail policies that discriminate against people with limited English skills.

The group of activists calling for Arpaio's resignation also pointed to recently released emails that showed top deputies forwarded offensive jokes to each other that reinforced stereotypes about Mexicans. Several officers distributed an email making fun of Spanish accents, while another officer circulated a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."

Portions of the emails were included in court filings for a civil lawsuit that accuses officers in the Arizona county of racially profiling people during traffic stops.

Arpaio denies that his deputies engage in racial profiling.

Video: Wanted: ‘America’s toughest sheriff’ (on this page)

Additionally, a county examination found that the sheriff's office inappropriately spent $99 million from two jail funds over the last eight years to pay for other law enforcement operations, including immigration patrols and unsuccessful criminal cases brought against two county officials and a judge.

The findings by county budget officials were sent to federal prosecutors in charge of the abuse-of-power investigation.

In addition to calling on the federal government to file charges against Arpaio, the group of activists said they want the sheriff's office placed into receivership and for the federal government to assume control over it.

Video: Lockup: Maricopa County: Heatwave - Protest (on this page)

Jacqueline Byers, research director at the National Association of Counties, said that would be unlikely.

She said if anyone could take over management of the sheriff's office it would be the state.

"The federal government can't say anything about how a county runs itself," she said. "Counties are creatures of the state, so the state would have to provide oversight."

Even if the state has laws in place to assume leadership and wants to, Byers said Arpaio likely would have to resign or be indicted on criminal charges first.

She was unaware of any other law enforcement agency in the country being placed into receivership, but said a county government in New Jersey recently was taken over by state officials over budget issues.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Arpaio: Feds should thank me, not sue me

  1. Closed captioning of: Arpaio: Feds should thank me, not sue me

    >>> the federal government is suing controversial maricopa county , arizona , sheriff joe arpaio . they say they're fed up with his refusal to cooperate in an investigation of how they treat illegal immigrants . tensions over the investigation have led to scene likes this one, angry confrontations between deputies and protesters. that was the very end of july when the law first implemented. at a news conference yesterday, arpaio said he thought the lawyers were cooperating. he says the actions make it abundantly clear that arizona , including this sheriff, is washington's new whipping joy. sheriff, good to talk to you.

    >> yeah, thank you.

    >> the justice department says it's issued 51 different requests asking for documents and they say that your office has pretty much ignored them.

    >> well, you know, my lawyers have been dealing with the officials in washington, communicating recently. they have thousands and thousands of our documents. i thought this thing would be resolved but here comes another lawsuit. by the way, the third lawsuit in recent weeks against the people of arizona . on the 1070 law they sued. now here it is me and then the maricopa county school districts . what is this? war against arizona ? because we're enforcing the immigration laws .

    >> well, and again, the judge that barred part of arizona 's controversial immigration law from going into effect said that arizona was overstepping its boundaries trying to enforce federal laws . here's what the justice department says. the actions of the sheriff's office are unprecedented. it's unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities. they say that you're not giving them access to the jails, you are not giving them access to the employees. you are not giving them access to inmaits when they're trying to figure out how it is that you're enforcing this. are you doing so?

    >> they have access. we resolved that. but let me say this. a year and a half they have been investigating me and my office. a year and a half for alleged racial profile. they can't come up with anything. now they're going to sue over some documents? what is that all about?

    >> this is now the third lawsuit that's been filed by the justice department in connection with the way your state and not just you but the state in general, they sued the state over the immigration law , the community colleges over alleged illegal requirements on asking noncitizens for jobs.

    >> okay.

    >> and now sued you, as well. when i was out in arizona covering the confrontations between protesters and sheriffs, i have to tell you, sheriff, it seemed like one of the most con tribed confrontations ever. are you doing this for political reasons?

    >> what are you talking about?

    >> well, i'll give you an example.

    >> they want to be arrested.

    >> i think on both parts. i think on the one part protesters sitting in the middle of the streets and streets that the police could have blocked off. didn't seem like it was interfering with traffic and that the police could have said, you know what? you want to sit in the middle of the street? we'll keep the cars from you. on your side -- it did seem like the protesters wanted to be arrested but what i'm saying is, it gets a lot of attention, gets people fired up but in the end wouldn't be easier to say, federal government , this is your job. do your job.

    >> no. it is our job. we have state laws that i enforce. human smuggling and the -- going into businesses. they're state laws. the federal government should be thanking me and everybody else in arizona for doing their job, working with them instead of filing lawsuits that try to do everything they can to stop this illegal immigration law enforcement . but it's not going to work because i'll continue to enforce all the laws that i took an oath of office to do.

    >> but they're not suing you for enforcing the laws. they're suing you saying you're standing in the way of the investigation into how you enforce the laws.

    >> well, it took -- it's a year and a half they've been here. roaming around trying to find some type of racial profiling . they have -- they have hundreds of thousands of our documents. they have it. but they can't come up with anything --

    >> do they have everything they're asking for?

    >> no.

    >> why not?

    >> we're trying to negotiate with them. it's so broad, they want everything. so give us a reason why they want certain documents. that's all we ask.

    >> sheriff joe arpaio , i always appreciate when you come on. thank you.


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