PHOENIX — The sheriff for metropolitan Phoenix plans to return to work Monday after spending more than two weeks recuperating from a broken shoulder suffered when he fell while crossing a street on his way to lunch.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told The Associated Press that he remains in pain from the Feb. 28 injury, but is eager to return to work after spending about two days in a hospital and then two weeks at his Fountain Hills, Ariz., home.
“I am raring to go,” Arpaio said in a phone interview Thursday. “I don’t like staying home.”
The 80-year-old sheriff said he tripped on a sidewalk near his headquarters on his way to a restaurant to get a quick bowl of soup. He fell on his shoulder, breaking it in two places. He said he came close to hitting his head on a curb, but was fortunate to walk away with no other injuries, besides a few scrapes.
“I am angry at myself. When you look at everything I have been through,” he said, giggling, “and I get incapacitated by a sidewalk.”
He said he was on light work duty during his two weeks of recovery at home, taking calls from staff members and dispensing with paperwork. His top aide continued leading the agency’s day-to-day operations as he normally does.
Arpaio posted images and video on the Internet showing him in the hospital in the days after suffering his fall, including one with tubes in his nose. Arpaio said he didn’t have to undergo surgery from his spill and that he believes an oxygen tube was a precaution to make sure he was breathing properly while he was being treated with pain medication.
Arpaio is known nationally for his tough stance on immigration enforcement, housing jail inmates in canvas tents and making inmates wear pink underwear.
Once he comes back to work, the sheriff said he will probably have to scale back his work schedule for some time, wear a sling on his left shoulder for four more weeks and likely have to undergo physical therapy.
He said his overall health remains good and noted that his biggest issue is taking medication for high blood pressure. He said he gets his heart checked out by a doctor twice a year.
His shoulder injury came a month after a group of critics launched a petition drive in a bid to prompt a recall election against him.
Recall organizers say Arpaio should be ousted, in part, for failing to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases and creating jail conditions that have resulted in huge legal settlements against the county.
Arpaio supporters say the sheriff won his sixth-term last year fair and square and that they were planning to file a lawsuit on Tuesday in an attempt to stop the recall effort. Though Arpaio faced his second-tightest election in November, he beat his closest challenger by 6 percentage points.
The recall group made no references to Arpaio’s health in a document it produced that lists its reasons for wanting to oust Arpaio.
Still, Lilia Alvarez, campaign manager for the group seeking to recall Arpaio, said the sheriff’s critics had questions about his health during his re-election campaign last fall but that Arpaio didn’t provide voters with a chance to properly scrutinize him because he didn’t debate his two challengers, kept a fairly low profile and instead relied on TV commercials.
Alvarez said things will be different this time around.
“He has to face the reality that the people are asking questions and he won’t be able to do what he did in the last election cycle,” Alvarez said.
Arpaio said he knows some critics are whispering about his health. “I am a fighter. If I knew I was physically unable to do this job, I would leave, but I am not,” Arpaio said. “And I’m not going to leave. I am not going to back down just because these people want me out of office.”