One would expect Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of all people, to respect the law. Yet somehow the Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff has been referred for prosecution for contempt of court – a crime whose essence is the refusal to obey legal authority.
Arpaio is nationally famous, some would say infamous, as a law-and-order man who treats his inmates harshly. He runs a “tent city” jail, keeping men and women locked up outdoors in the desert heat. He issued them pink underwear and towels; he boasted of giving them food cheaper than what he gives his dogs. “Everything I do is geared to send a message to all the people who live in Maricopa County,” he told the Washington Examiner, “that if you do something wrong, you’re going to end up in the tents.”
Now U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow has found Arpaio intentionally disobeyed court orders to stop detaining suspected illegal immigrants who weren’t suspected of violating state law and to personally make sure evidence in a civil case against him was preserved. And he has asked that another judge determine whether Sheriff Arpaio should be held in criminal contempt.
Arpaio, like anyone else suspected of a crime, is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But if Arpaio is guilty, he must be punished accordingly. The fact that he has spent years of his life enforcing the law is not a reason not to punish him. Thatr would be to suggest that some people are above the law, and only others must be punished if they break it.