Sheriff Joe Arpaio: "I'm not a social worker, I'm a cop"

Joe Arpaio, sheriff in Maricopa Country, Arizona on April 4, 2012.
Joe Arpaio, sheriff in Maricopa Country, Arizona on April 4, 2012.
CBS News

(CBS News) PHOENIX - One of the longest serving lawmen in the country is doing battle with the Justice Department. Joe Arpaio is sheriff in Maricopa Country, Arizona which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale.

The federal government says they will sue the controversial sheriff to force him to accept federal oversight of his department. CBS News correspondent John Blackstone tells us why.

In his latest battle with the U.S. Department of Justice over alleged civil rights abuses, Sheriff Joe Arpaio remains defiant.

"I sure don't want to be known as a nice guy," he said. "I'm not a social worker, I'm a cop."

The 79-year-old has been in office since 1982. Many who have gone through his jails, including his desert tent city where inmates wear pink underwear, have long accused Arpaio of violating their rights.

But it's his department's treatment of Hispanics that prompted federal officials this week to demand an independent monitor.

"Are they going after this sheriff?" asked Arpaio. "Well we know why, because hey don't like me enforcing illegal immigration law."

A three-year investigation by the Justice Department found what it called "unconstitutional policing" and "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos" who are up to nine times more likely than whites to be stopped by a Maricopa County deputy.

Blackstone asked Arpaio if it is enough to appear Hispanic to be suspected by one of his deputies.

"I'm an equal opportunity guy," he replied. "We lock everybody up. It doesn't matter what their race or background is."

In one incident cited in the federal report a Hispanic driver "was incarcerated for 13 days before his citation was dismissed" for not using his turn signal.

In another, one of Arpaio's deputies "purposefully struck (a Latino) with his patrol car, pinning (him) under the vehicle". Arpaio's department paid $600,000 to settle the lawsuit.

But Arpaio's supporters say the sheriff gets results, citing Maricopa County's 19 percent drop in crime from 2004 to 2008. An effort by opponents to force a recall election failed in 2007.

"I am not going to surrender," explained Arpaio. "I will never resign no matter how many demonstrations they have."

He's not only refusing to resign. He is running for re-election in November seeking a sixth four-year term and has already raised $6 million in campaign donations.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.