U.S. President Donald Trump has finally bowed to pressure and condemned the white supremacist groups behind the riots in Virginia on Saturday. But as he did so, he announced he was considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, a notorious former Arizona sheriff found guilty in a major racial profiling case.
“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” Trump told Fox News on Sunday at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The White House had no official announcement concerning Arpaio for now, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump not to pardon Arpaio due to his treatment of Latinos in Arizona.
"Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism," Cecillia Wang, an ACLU deputy legal director, said in a statement.
Arpaio had styled himself as "America's toughest sheriff" for his harsh anti-immigrant stance. Opponents accused the Maricopa County sheriff – who often sought the media spotlight – of grandstanding and a mocking disregard for basic human rights.
Some of his tactics included requiring male inmates to wear pink underwear and the use of an outdoor jail known as "Tent City," an open air prison in the hot desert described as an inhumane deathtrap. Critics say Arpaio relished the novel forms of abuse and indignity meted out to prisoners, who were paraded in black-and-white stripes while being fed rotten food, such as green bologna, twice a day.
Arpaio was also known for using the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department to supplement federal immigration enforcement efforts, earning him the adoration of white supremacists and anti-immigrant groups across the United States.
Donald Trump frequently praised Arpaio during his election campaign.
Arpaio was convicted on July 31 of misdemeanor contempt by a U.S. district judge in Phoenix for willfully disregarding a court order that barred his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists solely on the suspicion that they were in the country without authorization. Federal prosecutors said the racial profiling of Latino drivers continued for about 18 months after the injunction was issued, with 170 or more people wrongfully detained.
During an investigation by the Department of Justice, Arpaio was found to have created “a general culture of bias” in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office which had, through failures in training and poor oversight, fostered and perpetuated discriminatory police practices.
The 85-year-old former lawman, who lost his bid for re-election as Maricopa County sheriff last November after 24 years in office, faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine when he is sentenced on Oct. 5.
Trump told Fox News the pardon could happen in the next few days.
“He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him,” Fox News quoted the president as saying.