When former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio headlines the St. Louis County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Days Dinner on March 23, Tony Singleton, Marty Atencio, and Debby Braillard won’t be able to make it.
On November 4, 2015, Singleton died in Arpaio’s custody from alcohol and opiate withdrawal after officers in Arpaio’s Maricopa County jail allegedly ignored his cries for help, telling him he was “faking.”
On December 20, 2011, Atencio died in the same Arpaio lock-up after allegedly being “tased, beaten, and manhandled” by deputies. Atencio, a veteran of the first Gulf War, was mentally ill.
On January 5, 2005, Braillard – a diabetic who had hand-sewn a Minnie Mouse costume for her six-year old daughter Jennylee the previous Halloween – died in a diabetic coma in Arpaio’s jail because deputies ignored her pleas for help. They thought she was just another junkie withdrawing.
Called “America’s worst lawman” by the Libertarian Reason magazine, “a stain on his party” by the conservative Washington Examiner, and “a brutal disgraced racist” by the ACLU, Arpaio is heading the St. Louis County GOP event apparently only because David Duke isn’t available and Heinrich Himmler is dead. Arpaio’s reign of terror in Arizona is now a perfect fit for St. Louis County Republicans as they transition to full-blown white nationalists.
Arpaio was found guilty of federal criminal contempt in 2017 and faced six months in jail for violating a federal judge’s order to stop jailing immigrants just because they lacked legal status and were Latino.. Arpaio ignored that order for 18 months. He dodged the conviction when Trump gave him a presidential pardon.
Arpaio ran a tent city outdoor detention center in Arizona that he once glowingly called “a concentration camp.” He called it “where all the Mexicans are” and made no bones about how he was targeting people for arrest simply because they were Latino, then putting them in the barbed-wire-enclosed facility where daytime temperatures regularly exceeded 130 degrees. In 2012, the Justice Department charged that Arpaio was particularly brutal toward Latina inmates, denying women access to female sanitary items and tossing them into solitary confinement because they didn’t understand English.
The smugness of Arpaio’s racist brutality is bad enough, but it’s the dead who get your attention. An investigation by the Phoenix New Times found that 157 people died in Arpaio’s lock-ups between 1996 and 2015. But the odd thing is how they died. Suicide rates in major metropolitan county jails runs between six and 14 percent. In Arpaio’s jails, suicides accounted for an almost-unheard of 24 percent of the deaths. Of the 157 dead, 39 hanged themselves.
The newspaper concluded the total number of suicides is probably much higher, but because the Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department under Arpaio was stingy with details, and because the county medical examiner doesn’t track jailhouse suicides, exact figures are impossible to come by.
What the New Times did find was that of the non-suicide deaths, 34 were simply logged as “found dead” with no other explanation, while 39 more died “without explanation” in the county hospital.
The math is shocking and suspicious. Of the 118 non-suicide deaths in Arpaio’s various lock-ups, 73 of them— a whopping 62 percent of the total – officially died from “who knows what happened?” Total wrongful deaths lawsuits against Arpaio’s Sheriff’s Department cost-Phoenix-area taxpayers tens of millions of dollars during his 24-year reign, with five cases alone costing the county over $24 million.
Arpaio also had been on a one-man jihad against undocumented immigration for decades. In fact, he focused so much time and so many sheriff’s department resources on chasing down, arresting, and jailing suspected illegal immigrants that other crime in his jurisdiction was allowed to skyrocket.
In 2008, the Goldwater Institute think tank compared Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with other Phoenix-area jurisdictions. They found violent crime in Arpaio’s jurisdiction had soared 69 percent, while murders had increased 160 percent. The rate of increase in the other agencies Arpaio was compared to was between 18 percent and zero.
In 2009, Arizona’s East Valley Tribune investigated how everything from sheriff’s response time to overall criminal enforcement became worse in Maricopa County, as Arpaio diverted resources to chase down suspected illegal immigrants. The investigation won the Tribune a Pulitzer Prize.
Then, there was the vendetta Arpaio launched against the New Times for its reporting. Two newspaper staffers were arrested in 2007 and charged with somehow leaking grand jury testimony. The case was tossed out, Arpaio’s “special prosecutor” was disbarred, and the paper won a $3.75 million settlement from the county.
Arpaio also made headlines by launching his own “investigation” into Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Arpaio’s birther fantasy dragged on for four years with no results, despite Arpaio’s repeated insistence he had proof Obama was not born in America.
The Republican Party has confused attacking political opposition with “law and order” and racism with “patriotism” at least since Richard Nixon. Arpaio is the perfect avatar of both.
The idea of someone like Arpaio headlining a dinner named for Abraham Lincoln boggles the mind, until you consider who is involved in inviting him. The chairman of the St Louis County GOP Central Committee is Bruce Buwalda, one of the staunchest defenders of dark money and bondage fan and ousted Missouri governor Eric Greitens.
One of the members of the County Republican Central Committee is Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, the pro-cop, anti-protestor mayor of Ferguson who gained international attention for his support of police and attacks on demonstrators during the Ferguson unrest, and for being re-elected after a drive to register new black voters in Ferguson didn’t produce much.
Arpaio is a racist and was a lousy cop. That doesn’t matter to St. Louis County Republicans. The law-and-order party is just fine with lawlessness, as long as it’s aimed at non-whites and the poor, since they’re not “real Americans.”
To Arpaio and his supporters, they’re not even human.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.