By Amanda Lee Myers
PHOENIX - Critics of America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff on Wednesday called for his resignation and for the federal government to indict him and take control of his office amid allegations of corruption, racial profiling, and misspending.
The call for action comes after a recent investigation revealed evidence of corruption among Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's top commanders, and emails cited in court documents showed that top deputies circulated offensive jokes about Mexicans even as they were being scrutinized over allegations of racial profiling.
"We're the laughing stock of the world," said Salvador Reza, an organizer of a local immigrant rights group who joined County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a state representative and others at a news conference where they called for Arpaio's resignation.
Asked whether he would resign, Arpaio _ widely known for his department's crime and immigration sweeps _ told The Associated Press: "Never."
"I have no fear about what these people want," he said. "I think we've done a pretty good job in the sheriff's office. There's always bumps in the road sometimes, but when they come about I take immediate action."
Arpaio fired two top aides last month following a misconduct investigation by another local sheriff's office. A heavily redacted report portrayed one of the aides, former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, as a manager who cut corners in criminal investigations and tried to bully colleagues who objected to his orders.
The group calling for Arpaio to resign says the report shows that at best, Arpaio is an incompetent manager if he didn't know about the alleged corruption, and at worst, that he was perfectly aware of it.
Arpaio said he did not know about it, is responsible for 15,000 employees and delegated a lot of responsibilities.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said he found no evidence that Arpaio knew what was going on among his command staff and placed much of the blame on Hendershott.
A federal grand jury also is investigating Arpaio over abuse-of-power allegations, and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation of Arpaio's office and examining jail policies that discriminate against people with limited English skills.
The group of activists calling for Arpaio's resignation also pointed to recently released emails that showed top deputies forwarded offensive jokes to each other that reinforced stereotypes about Mexicans. Several officers distributed an email making fun of Spanish accents, while another officer circulated a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."
Portions of the emails were included in court filings for a civil lawsuit that accuses officers in the Arizona county of racially profiling people during traffic stops.
Arpaio denies that his deputies engage in racial profiling.
Additionally, a county examination found that the sheriff's office inappropriately spent $99 million from two jail funds over the last eight years to pay for other law enforcement operations, including immigration patrols and unsuccessful criminal cases brought against two county officials and a judge.
The findings by county budget officials were sent to federal prosecutors in charge of the abuse-of-power investigation.
In addition to calling on the federal government to file charges against Arpaio, the group of activists said they want the sheriff's office placed into receivership and for the federal government to assume control over it.
Jacqueline Byers, research director at the National Association of Counties, said that would be unlikely.
She said if anyone could take over management of the sheriff's office it would be the state.
"The federal government can't say anything about how a county runs itself," she said. "Counties are creatures of the state, so the state would have to provide oversight."
Even if the state has laws in place to assume leadership and wants to, Byers said Arpaio likely would have to resign or be indicted on criminal charges first.
She was unaware of any other law enforcement agency in the country being placed into receivership, but said county governments in Michigan and New Jersey recently were taken over by state officials over budget issues.
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