Controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump on Friday after being found guilty in July on criminal contempt charges stemming from his refusal to stop imprisoning suspected illegal immigrants.
"Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon," the White House said in part in a press release.
Arpaio quickly took to Twitter to express his approval of the pardon.
"Thank you @realdonaldtrump for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!" he wrote. "I am humbled and incredibly grateful to President Trump. I look fwd to putting this chapter behind me and helping to #MAGA."
Arpaio also provided a link to donate to a legal fund to pay of his legal fees.
In an interview with ABC Radio's Jeff Scott, Arpaio echoed the above sentiments, saying, "I appreciate the president's pardon. I'm very humbled that he did that. He loves law enforcement. I was with him from day one two years ago in Phoenix at the first rally. I've always said, pardon or no pardon, I will stick with him as long as he's the president."
He continued, "Am I surprised? I don't know if I'm surprised. When he mentioned it at the rally, I know it came from his heart. He probably surprised everybody except me. I knew. I just had a gut feeling he would do something like that. So think he sent a little message out and he carried through."
As of Friday night, Arpaio said he had spoken to the president.
In a tweet later on Friday, Trump called Arpaio a "patriot" and said he "kept Arizona safe."
Arpaio, an outspoken critic of undocumented migrants as well as an ardent supporter of Trump, appeared on the presidential campaign trail with the Republican candidate in 2016. He was said to be under consideration for a pardon last week by Trump, and was all but promised clemency by the president during a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday.
"I'll make a prediction. I think [Arpaio]'s going to be just fine, OK? But I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy," said the president, alluding to a pardon. "Is that OK? ... But Sheriff Joe can feel good."
The White House said Arpaio exemplified "selfless public service" throughout his life and career. "Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration," the release said.
As sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 to 2016, Arpaio gained national notoriety for his hardline positions and unconventional punishments for prisoners. He was frequently accused of racial profiling regarding his practice of arresting and jailing undocumented immigrants, and was sued over the issue in 2007.
In 2013, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the county's actions to be discriminatory and in violation of the Civil Rights Act. This led to a contempt charge when Arpaio's office refused to yield on its conduct. He has yet to be sentenced after being found guilty on July 31.
Arpaio also garnered widespread attention for housing inmates in an extension of the Maricopa County jail known as "Tent City," issuing prisoners pink-colored underwear and holding multiple press conferences to allege that President Barack Obama's birth certificate was fraudulent.
Arpaio endorsed Trump's presidential candidacy in January 2016, going on to appear at campaign events with the businessman-turned-politician and eventually speaking at the Republican National Convention. Despite his elevated national exposure, Arpaio was defeated in his own election in November by an almost 13-point margin.
Reaction to Arpaio's pardon was swift. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement that the president's "pardon of Joe Arpaio, who illegally profiled Latinos, undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law."
McCain's fellow Republican senator, Jeff Flake, tweeted, "Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course."
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton called the pardon a "slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County, especially the Latino community."
Democratic Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva tweeted, "If @realDonaldTrump can pardon a man who so blatantly violated the Constitution, what is left to protect us?"
The NAACP the move an "explicit embrace of the racist policing practices that leave communities fearful of very ppl who should protect & serve."
Meanwhile, the ACLU accused Trump of choosing "lawlessness over justice, division over unity, hurt over healing."