PHOENIX — He is no longer America’s toughest sheriff.
Joe Arpaio, who for 24 years was the top cop for Arizona’s most populated county and became nationally known for his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, was defeated in his bid for a seventh term.
He will be succeeded by Paul Penzone, a Democrat and former Phoenix police sergeant who beat him by a margin of 54.9% to 45.1% of the vote.
Arpaio, who is 84-years-old, took over as Maricopa County sheriff in 1992 and quickly became a controversial figure for his particular brand of old-school and gimmicky policing. Among the things he was well-known for was forcing inmates to live in tent cities, wear pink underwear and striped prison jumpsuits.
But it was his unrelenting drive at stamping out illegal immigrants that gained him his most notoriety. In 2005, he banded together with the county’s prosecutor to launch a wide-scale deportation scheme which rounded up tens of thousands of people in highly-publicized raids in heavily Hispanic areas with camera crews in tow.
Civil rights groups called the effort an abomination, although Arpaio became a folk hero among those who were in support of a crackdown on illegal immigrants. He was also popular in far right-wing corners for launching an investigation into the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate and his pursuit of other conspiracy theories. He palled around with celebrities like Steven Seagal and became an ally of President-Elect Donald Trump. Arpaio has been mentioned as a possible candidate to become Homeland Security secretary in the Trump administration.
In the late 2000s, Arpaio and his allies came under federal investigation for abusing their power allegedly targeting people who opposed them for arrest. Arpaio was ultimately cleared although others were implicated.
In 2011, he was sued in federal court by Hispanic residents detained in traffic stops intended to locate illegal immigrants saying they were victims of racial profiling. A judge ultimately agreed and ordered Arpaio to stop but he refused and was held in contempt of court.
Ironically, Arpaio — who remained deeply popular among older residents in Maricopa County –met his end at the hands of younger Hispanic voters who became a larger part of the county’s population as demographics shifted.