The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” in America, Phoenix’s Joe Arpaio, who has survived six separate inmate lawsuits trying to stop him from playing Christmas music, will begin playing the tunes again this year - starting Monday with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Feliz Navidad.”
The 8,000 inmates also will hear, among others, “A Christmas Kwanzaa Solstice,” “Over the Skies of Israel,” “Ramadan,” “Llego a La Ciudad,” “Let it Snow” and “Rodolpho El Reno de la Nariz Rojita.”
“Maybe the holiday music can help lift the spirits of the men and women who are away from friends and family during the holidays, not just the inmates, but the dedicated men and women who work in the Maricopa County Jails,” the sheriff said in an announcement Sunday.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, to which Sheriff Arpaio was first elected in 1992 after a 25-year career at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has played the holiday songs all day, every day, during previous seasons. The latest inmate lawsuit was dismissed in federal court in December 2009.
Sheriff Arpaio has long expressed his fondness for Christmas music, especially “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and anything by Alvin and the Chipmunks, so it was with some glee last year that he announced in a red-and-green press release that the lawsuit had been dismissed and the music would begin.
“We keep winning these lawsuits. Inmates should stop acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas and give up wasting the court’s time with such frivolous assertions,” the press release read.
Inmates have sued six times claiming that being forced to listen to the Christmas songs 12 hours a day was in violation of their civil and religious rights and a cruel and unusual punishment, but U.S. District Judge Roz Silver disagreed, dismissing the case and denying claims for $250,000 in damages.
The court issued a summary judgment saying it found no evidence of fact, so Sheriff Arpaio was entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.
In upholding the decision, the court said the sheriff was free to “inject the holiday spirit into the lives of those incarcerated over the holiday season in the third-largest jail system in the U.S.”
Sheriff Arpaio has noted that his music selections have been multiethnic and culturally diverse, from all religions and ethnicities. He told The Washington Times that in addition to tunes by Alvin and the Chipmunks, the music included the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Bing Crosby and Doctor Demento.
“All people everywhere deserve a little Christmas cheer,” he said.
Sheriff Arpaio catapulted to national attention when he cracked down on the thousands of illegal immigrants who swarm daily through his county; put inmates in pink jumpsuits and underwear; worked them in chain gangs; housed them in tents in the Arizona desert; and fed them bologna sandwiches.
The sheriff is no stranger to controversy, although his philosophy of “zero tolerance towards the criminal element” has been embraced by his deputies and the community alike.
Most recently, he has come to the attention of the federal government. He was notified in March 2009 by the Justice Department that he may have unfairly targeted Hispanics and Spanish-speaking people for arrest. In October 2009, the Department of Homeland Security revoked the authority of his federally trained deputies to make immigration arrests in the field.
Tired of waiting for the federal government to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and concerned about the potential terrorism threat that the lack of border security posed, he assigned deputies in 2006 to monitor his 9,226-square-mile county for illegal immigrants. He targeted the illegals under an anti-smuggling law that state lawmakers passed to fight drug trafficking.
“My message is clear: If you come here and I catch you, you’re going straight to jail,” he said at the time. “We’re going to arrest any illegal who violates this new law, and I’m not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico. I’ll give them a free ride to my jail.”
In September, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix accusing the sheriff’s office of failing to turn over documents sought since March 2009 that federal prosecutors say comply with its probe of purported discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and English-only policies in his jails that discriminate against those with limited English skills.
The sheriff has described the lawsuit as “harassment,” saying thousands of pages of documents have already been turned over by his office to federal prosecutors. He said the lawsuit made it “abundantly clear that Arizona, including this sheriff, is Washington’s new whipping boy.”
Earlier this month, the sheriff announced the creation of an armed “Immigration Posse” to combat illegal immigration. Among those signing up were Hollywood actors Steven Seagal and Lou Ferrigno, along with Dick Tracy and Wyatt Earp.
Fighting Justice Department accusations that his office discriminated against illegal immigrants during arrests, Sheriff Arpaio said the civilian posse of more than 50 members gives citizens a chance to fight the problem inundating their border state.
“Law enforcement budgets are being cut and agencies are losing personnel and yet the battle to stop illegal immigration must continue,” said the sheriff, who heads the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. “Arizona is the busiest port of entry for people being smuggled in from Mexico, Latin and South America. So asking for the public’s help in this endeavor makes sense, especially given the success the posses have experienced over the years.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has investigated, arrested or detained more than 42,000 illegal immigrants during the past three years.