John Oliver Explains Why Trump's Pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio Is So Dangerous

Joe Arpaio “broke the rules he was sworn to uphold, rules that are put in place to protect citizens from a government going out of control," John Oliver said of the former Arizona sheriff, whom President Donald Trump pardoned in August. Last Week Tonight

President Donald Trump exercised his pardon power for the first time in late August on Joe Arpaio. The former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff was found guilty a month earlier of criminal contempt for defying a judge's court order to stop profiling Latinos. A few days before the pardon, at a rally in Arizona, Trump lamented the plight of poor Sheriff Joe, whose questionable practices he had praised throughout his campaign. "So was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" the president asked. The answer is most definitely no, as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday's Last Week Tonight.

Related: Will Trump's Arpaio pardon help swing Arizona to the Democrats?

Arpaio was known as "America's toughest sheriff" long before Trump ran for president, and Oliver had the clips of evening newscasts to prove it. Arpaio's "tent city" jail—the temperatures inside could reach 145 degrees—was open for 24 years before it was closed in April. Inmates were forced to wear cartoonish black-and-white prison uniforms and, famously, pink underwear. When immigration became the key issue of Trump's campaign, he began to praise "Sherrif Joe," who was known for profiling Latinos.

Oliver highlighted just how proud the former sheriff is of his work. He has bragged about forcing inmates—who receive only two meals a day—to eat baloney so rotten it turned green. In 2001, he boasted that he was "the first in the world" to put women in chain gangs. He even shook a finger in the air to celebrate the accomplishment. He starred in a reality show called Smile...You're Under Arrest, in which people with outstanding warrants were "pranked" before being cuffed and taken into custody.

Arpaio's pride has been able to weather just about any criticism his treatment of inmates has received. He has an excuse for everything. When footage of women inmates using the restroom made its way onto the internet, his office said the hidden cameras, which Arpaio installed, did not show private parts, and that "no juveniles would have been displayed unless they look older to us and lie to us."

His office has had to pay out multiple settlements to families of inmates who have died in his jails. He's launched comically flimsy criminal investigations into his enemies. In 2011, when it was revealed that his department failed to properly investigate 400 sex crimes, some of which involved children, Arpaio "apologized" to the victims before questioning whether there were any legitimate victims at all. The list goes on.

What eventually brought Arpaio down—at least until Trump came along—was racial profiling. A Justice Department investigation found that his department exhibited a "pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos," which is obvious when they are nine times more likely to be pulled over than whites, and one spent 13 days in jail for not using a turn signal.

In 2011, a court ruled that people suspected of being illegal immigrants can't be arrested solely because of their appearance. Over the next year and a half, Arpaio detained 171 people without criminal charges and turned them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A federal judge in July found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt. According to Trump, Arpaio was just doing his job.

"Arpaio broke the rules he was sworn to uphold, rules that are put in place to protect citizens from a government going out of control," Oliver concluded Sunday night. "Trump giving him a pass for everything you've seen tonight, and saying he was just doing his job, was a loud confirmation that for the next few years law enforcement won't necessarily be expected to do their jobs the way the Constitution or the courts say they should."