But Sheriff Joe has a thing for arresting people who haven’t committed any crime. He arrested a Republican critic — the county supervisor — on trumped-up charges in 2008 and ended up handing over $3.5 million of taxpayers’ money in a wrongful-arrest settlement. He tried to bully the mayor of Phoenix in much the same way, demanding phone logs and other records as part of a nonsensical “investigation” designed to silence a critic. In another spectacular abuse of power, Arpaio teamed up with a friendly county attorney and filed a federal lawsuit seeking the federal prosecution of several judges and lawyers — his political enemies — under the RICO organized-crime statute. Arpaio, being Arpaio, held a press conference announcing the investigation, which the federal courts immediately threw out as “patently frivolous.” Millions more taxpayers’ dollars were paid out in settlements.
On the other hand, the sheriff has a long record of failing to arrest those who need arresting. An investigation by the Arizona Republic found that only 18 percent of Arpaio’s agency’s cleared cases were cleared by arrest, while 82 percent were “exceptionally cleared,” meaning that they were declared to have been solved without any charges being filed. Those “exceptionally cleared” cases included the gang rape of a 14-year-old and the rape of a 13-year-old, allegedly at the hands of her father. One of those cases was declared cleared even before DNA evidence had been processed. “Exceptional clearance” is a designation used in a small handful of circumstances, e.g., when police are convinced that they know who committed a crime but the suspect is dead and therefore beyond prosecution. Whatever “exceptional” means, it doesn’t mean 82 percent of your cases are cleared that way.