LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio is returning to the spotlight with public appearances in Arizona, Nevada and California following his pardon from President Donald Trump, including a Las Vegas event this weekend that was moved because of security concerns.
The president pardoned Arpaio last month for his federal conviction in an Arizona immigration case, prompting outrage among Latinos and civil rights organizations nationally. A judge found Arpaio’s office racially profiled Hispanic drivers in traffic stops and he was convicted of contempt of court for disobeying a court order to halt the practice.
Arpaio has since vowed to remain active politically without saying whether he’ll run for office again — and he is hitting the road for a Saturday event that has already generated controversy.
The 85-year-old lawman called “America’s Toughest Sheriff” by his supporters will receive a “Courage Under Fire” award Saturday from a conservative-libertarian group in Las Vegas, on the same day that Mexican Independence Day celebrations take place across the city.
Organizers consulted with police and decided to move the Arpaio event away from the Tropicana resort on the Las Vegas Strip because of concerns Arpaio supporters and Mexican Independence Day celebrants might clash.
“What they said was this had the potential to get out of control,” said Chuck Muth, an activist, blogger and head of a group called Citizen Outreach that is putting on the event to honor Arpaio.
Officer Larry Hadfield, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said department officials met with event host executives at the hotel, who made the decision about moving the event away from the Tropicana resort.
Hispanics account for 28 percent of Nevada’s population, and Mexican Independence Day festivities on the Strip are expected to draw tens of thousands of people for events including performances by Latin megastars Ricky Martin and Alejandro Fernandez. Boxing fans will also be at the T-Mobile Arena for a fight between Mexican star Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, a former amateur star from Kazakhstan now living in Los Angeles.
“We just decided for everyone’s safety, to move to an off-Strip location,” said Muth, who said he had 150 people signed up for the award dinner. “Having it across the street from T-Mobile was one of the concerns.”
Protests against Arpaio had been planned for Saturday but organizer and Latino community activist Jose Macias said the speech’s relocation has hurt efforts to convince people to demonstrate.
“We really want to show Arpaio is not welcome here because of the way he’s treated our immigrant community,” Macias said.
Arpaio’s first appearance following his Aug. 25 pardon was on Tuesday, before a Republican group in Prescott, Arizona. He is scheduled to speak Sept. 29 at a meeting of a gun rights group in Fresno, California. Arpaio said he plans to make more speeches and has started to write a book.
Arapio said did not receive compensation for the Prescott event, would not for his Las Vegas speech and was not sure if he will be paid for the Fresno appearance.
The Republican Arpaio lost his re-election bid last November to a little-known Democrat Phoenix police sergeant on the same day that Trump won the presidency.
His only public appearance between the election loss and his July conviction was in June at a gun-rights rally in Massachusetts.
Arpaio worked as a Las Vegas police officer for six months in 1957 before joining the federal agency that later became the Drug Enforcement Administration. He said he was dismayed this weekend’s event was moved from the Tropicana.
“It’s a sad day when you have to move a speech because of demonstrators,” he said.
Muth said the award “has nothing to do with the pardon” and is aimed at recognizing Arpaio “for standing up in the face of persecution — the Obama administration going after him, and the only thing they got him on was misdemeanor contempt.”
Arpaio had faced a possible maximum six-month jail sentence but the pardon means his conviction is erased from the record.
Muth said he believes Arpaio “was enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, whether you agree with them or not.”
Billeaud reported from Phoenix.