The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in the nation” is required to fix jails that do not meet constitutional minimums when it comes to food quality and housing conditions, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s appeal of District Court Judge Neil Wake’s 2008 ruling that mandated Maricopa County, Arizona change the conditions of its jails.
In the 2008 trial, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged that the Sheriff’s Office fed pre-trial detainees moldy bread, rotten fruit, and other contaminated food and held them in prison cells hot enough to endanger their health.
As a press release by the ACLU explains, Judge Wake’s ruling required Sheriff Arpaio to “end severe overcrowding and ensure all detainees receive necessary medical and mental health care, be given uninterrupted access to all medications prescribed by correctional medical staff, be given access to exercise and to sinks, toilets, toilet paper and soap and be served food that meets or exceeds the US Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines.”
“Today’s ruling is further confirmation that even a man who likes to brag about being the toughest sheriff in the nation has to follow the US Constitution,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project and lead counsel for the detainees. “Sheriff Arpaio’s unconscionable treatment of the thousands of pre-trial detainees in his custody has gone on far too long.”
Sheriff Arpaio “likes to portray himself as a hard man and merciless hunter of illegal immigrants, the boss of a prison where inmates live outdoors in tents, even in hellish summer heat,” Agence France-Presse reported in May. “They are dressed in black and white striped uniforms copied from old American movies.”
They also are forced to wear pink underwear, and to work in chain gangs of up 20 people, cleaning streets or painting walls, with shackles on their feet.
At the top of a prison watchtower, a sign flashes the word “vacancy,” one more of Sheriff Joe’s grim jokes.
The sheriff has succeeded in creating a climate of fear in Arizona’s migrant community, but he is also being watched very closely by the federal government.
In September, the Department of Justice sued Sheriff Arpaio for refusing to turn over documents related to a civil rights probe.
“The lawsuit calls Arpaio and his office’s defiance “unprecedented,” and said the federal government has been trying since March 2009 to get officials to comply with its probe of alleged discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and having English-only policies in his jails that discriminate against people with limited English skills,” reported the Associated Press.
On August 17th, a lawyer for Arpaio stated the sheriff would not comply because the request was too broad, as Raw Story reported.
The Sheriff’s Office of Maricopa County has also been accused of surveilling potential political rivals.
“Deputy Chief Frank Munnell alleges that the department’s number-two officer, Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, used the department’s anti-corruption unit to spy on political rivals,” Raw Story reported in September.
Munnell’s memo “describes an oppressive work environment in which Hendershott is alleged to have threatened and retaliated against subordinates who questioned him and browbeat others into refusing to cooperate with federal and state investigations into the Sheriff’s Office,” reports the Republic.