Joe Arpaio had been convicted of breaching court order to end racial profiling

President Donald Trump has granted a pardon to controversial former sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month for criminal contempt, according to a White House statement Friday night.

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Arpaio was due to appear in court on October 5, for failing to comply with a court order to stop racial profiling practices.

Self-styled as “America’s toughest sheriff”, he was accused of detaining people solely on the suspicion that they might be illegal immigrants.

The White House statement said Arpaio’s life and career, “exemplify selfless public service”.

US District Judge Susan Bolton wrote in the July 31, order that Arpaio abdicated responsibility and “announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise”.

The pardon was condemned by civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, which tweeted: “With his pardon of Arpaio, President Trump has chosen lawlessness over justice, division over unity, hurt over healing.”

Preet Bharara, former attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by President Trump himself in March, tweeted: “Bill Clinton’s pardon of Mark Rich stunk to high heaven. Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio stinks even more.”

Trump hinted last Tuesday at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona that he would pardon the former Maricopa County sheriff, adding that he did not want to do it that night, “because I don’t want to cause any controversy”.

Merrill Chertoff, head of the Aspen Institute, wrote at the time that Trump’s pardoning of Arpaio would constitute an abuse of federal clemency power.

According to a survey last weekend by Phoenix-based polling group OH Predictive Insights, 50 percent of Arizonans opposed the pardon, while 21 percent supported it and 29 percent were undecided.

In a post on Twitter, Democratic New York Senator Chuck Schumer accused President Trump of “using the cover of the storm” – Hurricane Harvey – to “pardon a man who violated a court order to stop discriminating against Latinos”.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal tweeted that “Congress must hold the President accountable – and protect the rule of law”.

Arpaio was an early supporter of Trump during his presidential campaign, but he himself lost reelection as sheriff last November.

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