In nearly 20 years as sheriff of Phoenix’ Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio has honed his publicity skills, using headline-grabbing, often outrageous maneuvers to build a reputation as the nation's toughest law officer and make himself a hero to many Americans, says the New York Times. He created the nation's first female chain gang; issued pink socks and underwear to the men in county jails; and housed inmates in refurbished Korean War tents under the blazing desert sun, then cut the salt and pepper out of their two meals a day. He also sent a posse to Hawaii to check on President Obama's birth certificate.
Now his penchant for public relations coups, each seemingly intended to outdo the last, threatens to become one of his greatest liabilities. Arpaio, 80, and his office are on trial in a federal class-action lawsuit, accused of singling out Latinos, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, for stops, questioning, and detention during large-scale policing operations. The Justice Department has sued him on the same grounds, alleging discriminatory practices that extend from the streets to the jails. On the stand, he had to confront past statements to the news media: Is it indeed “an honor” to be compared to the Ku Klux Klan, as he once told the TV anchor Lou Dobbs? A day after his testimony, he said: “The more they go after me, the more I do my job. If they think I'm going to hide now, they're wrong.”