Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no longer a top cop — as far as the Sons of Italy are concerned. After listing the Maricopa County sheriff as one of the top Italian-American crime fighters in the last century, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group has disavowed "America’s Toughest Sheriff," the group announced Monday.
Dona De Sanctis, deputy executive director of the Order Sons of Italy in America, said several people contacted her after seeing media coverage of Arpaio’s name on the list with Frank Serpico, a whistleblowing New York City police officer, and Charles J. Bonaparte, founder of the FBI.
De Sanctis cited controversy over allegations of people dying or being seriously injured while being held in Arpaio’s jails.
"I just believe that law enforcement officers, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion," De Sanctis said, making reference to William Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar."
"There’s too much controversy right now for us to include Sheriff Arpaio in our report," she said.
Arpaio said he was "very disappointed" with the national organization, not only for taking his name off the list, but also for the way it was done. De Sanctis was rude to him, he said, and made her decision "without having the decency to call this sheriff so I can explain it."
"I think this has insulted all Italian-Americans in the state, and perhaps nationally," Arpaio said.
The list, intended to counter stereotypes of Italian-Americans as gun-toting mobsters, was released earlier this month to coincide with the season premiere of HBO’s "The Sopranos." But some Arpaio critics, especially the local Mothers Against Arpaio, accused him of employing "Mafia-style techniques."
Several members of the Valley group have filed, or plan to file, a notice of claim against Arpaio’s office alleging wrongful death and other abuses associated with his management of county jails.
Lawsuits filed against Arpaio’s office have cost the county more than $13 million, many of the cases involving similar allegations of excessive force causing injuries and death.
Last May, state-based Order Sons of Italy, Grand Lodge of Arizona, honored Arpaio as "Arizona’s outstanding Italian-American," saying he is "a real representative of the law and a strong enforcer."
Joan Suardini, an organizer of the state group, said she had no comment or control over the actions of the national organization, but added that she believes Arpaio is an outstanding law enforcement officer.
De Sanctis said Arpaio was chosen for the national list based on its own research, but the group wasn’t privy to information about people who died or were seriously injured in his jails.
"To do this, to embarrass me, over how I run the jail . . . I can’t tell you. I can’t explain it," Arpaio said. "If this is how they run the national (chapter), I’m out of it."