Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an enduring symbol of Arizona’s unforgiving stance toward illegal immigration, lost his bid for a seventh term on Tuesday, effectively ending the career of perhaps the most divisive law enforcement figure in the country.
In the end, Sheriff Arpaio’s bid for re-election as sheriff of Maricopa County was undone by Latino voters who responded to his hard-line position on illegal immigration, which included workplace raids, frequent traffic stops and harsh talk.
“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, an advocacy group formed in 2007 to counter the sheriff’s embrace of a federal program that allowed his deputies to act as de facto immigration agents.
“We knew that losing an election was only a matter of time,” Mr. Garcia said. “For us, what is most important now is to undo the damage and culture of hate that he has brought upon this county.”
On Tuesday, Paul Penzone, a Democrat and a former Phoenix police sergeant who lost to Sheriff Arpaio in 2012, won the rematch, 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent, and will be the next sheriff of Maricopa County.
The race attracted millions of dollars from outside the state, a testament to the outsize role Sheriff Arpaio, 84, has played in the national debate over immigration overhaul. George Soros, a liberal investor, for example, spentmore than $2 million opposing the sheriff.
Sheriff Arpaio remained combative until the end, thumbing his nose at critics and turning setbacks into lines of attack. He blamed “the corrupt Obama Justice Department” for trying to influence the race when federal prosecutors announced that they would pursue criminal contempt-of-court charges against him for refusing a judge’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos.
“I’m kind of a trophy to the White House,” Sheriff Arpaio told members of a group called Believers for Trump last week at a Mexican restaurant in Wickenburg, which is in Maricopa County.
In an ad, he described the contempt charges, filed on Oct. 26, as “a bunch of garbage.”
Barrett Marson, a Republican political strategist, called Sheriff Arpaio “the Donald Trump of Arizona” for his ability to “turn every controversy into a line of attack against the Obama administration and a selling point for his die-hard fans.”
Older white and conservative voters propelled him to victory every four years for six elections, pumping millions of dollars into his campaign. But his dominance waned as he faced more legal challenges and opposition from a growing number of Latinos, who this year accounted for almost 20 percent of all registered voters in the state. Latinos are poised to become a majority in Arizona by 2030.
Even as Maricopa County, the state’s largest, spent tens of millions of dollars in Sheriff Arpaio’s legal defense — he has also faced numerous lawsuits over abuse and faulty medical care in the several jails he runs — he claimed that he saved taxpayers money.
His focus on immigration enforcement intensified as hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were crossing into Arizona. For a time, the federal government enabled his activities, allowing some of his deputies to act as immigration agents and, with that, to selectively target Latinos on the streets and at work.
Sheriff Arpaio plunged into the illegalimmigration debate in 2005, after an Army reservist named Patrick Haab detained seven undocumented immigrants at gunpoint in the desert. The sheriff ordered Mr. Haab arrested, saying, “Being illegal is not a serious crime.”
The Maricopa County attorney at the time, Andrew Thomas, refused to prosecute Mr. Haab, though, holding him up as a sort of folk hero who was simply exercising his rights as a citizen.
“You could almost see a light bulb go off as Arpaio watched the positive reaction from the public,” recalled Paul K. Charlton, who served as United States attorney for Arizona from 2001 to 2007. “From that point on, we lost him.”
In 2005, an Arizona law made it a felony to smuggle people for profit in the state, and Mr. Thomas, who has since been disbarred, interpreted the law as one that criminalizes both smugglers and those being smuggled, effectively giving the sheriff carte blanche to carry out his arrests of unauthorized immigrants.
More than 50,000 such people were caught in Sheriff Arpaio’s roundups, or about 10 percent of the 500,000 undocumented immigrants believed to be living in Arizona, he boasted in 2012. His so-called saturation patrols, sweeps in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix, were routinely done without evidence of criminal activity, violating federal safeguards against racial profiling. At the same time, investigations on violent crimes, including dozens of sexual assault allegations, stalled or were abandoned altogether.
“His overall legacy became that of an individual who stained law enforcement’s reputation, who harmed law enforcement’s reputation and who did great damage in the community,” Mr. Charlton said. “He went from a leader of a law enforcement agency to literally being an outlaw.”
A week before he was due in Federal District Court here last year for a contempt-of-court hearing on his discrimination case, Sheriff Arpaio brought the former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson to his outdoor jail, called Tent City, to promote the meatless meals served there that he called “vegetarian.”
The visit generated more news coverage than the hearing did.
More than once, he has joked about his possible imprisonment if he were convicted.
“If I do go to jail, I’m glad it will be federal, because I’ll get three square meals a day,” he said during the event in Wickenburg. The eight jails he runs serve two meals a day — breakfast and dinner.
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