Texting To Combat “Tough Guy” Sheriff Joe Arpaio

January 6, 2010

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a legend in his own mind. For years he has sought publicity for himself while trampling citizen’s constitutional rights. He obviously loves the attention. He commonly refers to himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” Back in 2002, he described himself like this:

“I’m very outspoken and a high-profile guy, the toughest sheriff in America and all that, well-known everywhere.”

I can’t argue with his popularity. The voters love him, and he keeps getting re-elected.  On the other hand, there’s a whole web site dedicated to getting him out of office. In questioning his sanity, the site brings up his claims of having arrested Elvis Presley and breaking the Freanch Connection case.  There is no evidence that either of these claims are true.

Among the more outrageous things he’s been responsible for in his colorful career include denying pregnant inmates pre-natal vitamins and appropriate care, leading to the death of at least one baby. He has paraded inmates through town wearing nothing but pink shorts and flip flops. He has also recently encouraged one of his deputies to defy a judge’s order, resulting in the deputy’s incarceration. Now he is trying to have the judge prosecuted in what can only be viewed as punishment for daring to stand up to America’s Toughest Sheriff.

He apparently has a real problem with hispanics. His treatment of  Alma Minerva Chacon was downright criminal.

Mr. Tough Guy is also engaged in a one man crusade to crack down on illegal immigration. Trouble is, his department is pulling over just about every hispanic looking driver in the county. That’s called racial profiling, and this crusade has been brought to the attention of the U.S. Justice Department.  Sheriff Joe and his buddies are undeterred.

Lydia Guzman is fighting back. She runs a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group called Respect/Respeto. The organization has created a sophisticated texting tree which is designed to alert Latinos to immigration sweeps.

Is this legal? Well, surprisingly enough, the Sheriff doesn’t think so.  Andy Hassick, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University, syas that “sending messages with the specific intent of warning illegal immigrants to help them avoid arrest could be akin to being an accomplice after a crime.”

Other legal scholars tend to differ with him, though.

David Hudson Jr., a First Amendment scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, said the messages are protected free speech because they are merely letting people know what Arpaio is doing, similar to publicizing DUI checkpoints and speed traps or flashing your headlights when police are nearby.

“That is not unlawful,” he said. “It’s the conveyance of truthful information.”

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