In San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascón is known as an administratively competent political moderate with a firmly established place in the ascendant "city family" headed by Mayor Ed Lee. During his tenure as chief of the Mesa Police Department in Arizona, Gascón was known for something else: his courage in standing up to the bizarre and nefarious reign of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Now it appears like that reign might finally be crumbling. It's been a tough December for Arpaio, who has endured a storm of political criticism over his deputies' bungling of hundreds of sex-crime cases; an unfavorable federal court hearing in a lawsuit that targets him for violating SF Weekly sister paper the Phoenix New Times' constitutional rights; and, as of yesterday, the long-awaited results of a federal probe into civil-rights violations by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.
The U.S. Justice Department found that Arpaio had instituted "discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, a culture that breeds a systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections." In fact, the DOJ concluded that the MCSO, in its treatment of Latinos, had committed the worst observed racial profiling in American history.
The Justice Deparment findings are a form of vindication for Gascón, who during his time in Mesa was one of the few prominent law-enforcement officials to criticize Arpaio's persecution of Mexican immigrants. Late yesterday, the DA issued a statement lauding the feds' findings.
"Sheriff Arpaio instituted a culture
of racism and fear that went unchecked for too long. He demonized the
Latino community and had complete disregard of the Constitution and laws of
the United States," Gascón said in the statement. "The Justice Department's findings are the tip of the
iceberg and the beginning of what I hope is the road to recovery for the
good people of Maricopa County."
Arpaio, meanwhile, remains as obstinately defiant of his critics as ever, claiming that the three-year investigation was a political stunt by the Obama administration. "America's toughest sheriff" must now must decide whether to cooperate with the feds as they try to
overhaul the sprawling sheriff's department, or face a lawsuit by the