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Lone ranger: Tucson's tough-talking sheriff suddenly has national spotlight

Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, called Arizona the 'capital' of hatred after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. He's no stranger to controversy. He has said the tea party brings out the 'worst in America' and called Arizona's immigration law 'racist.'

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / January 10, 2011

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik speaks at a news conference Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., following a shooting spree that killed six people and wounded 14, including US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Chris Morrison/AP


Tucson, Ariz.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has been both lauded and lambasted for linking Saturday's mass shooting at an event for US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) to a climate of "prejudice and bigotry" in Arizona and to political "vitriol" across the country.

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Among the people he serves in Tucson, Ariz., however, the controversial comments come as no surprise.

To Arizonans, he is the state's foil for Joe Arpaio, the outspoken sheriff of Maricopa County whose unyielding stand against illegal immigration has led to national recognition. As the sheriff for 30 years of the more liberal Pima County – home to the University of Arizona – Dupnik has license for making controversial comments that appear out of line with the rest of the state.

Now, however, his comments have thrown him into a national spotlight, making him either a brave speaker of hard truths or a symbol of a willful desire to stereotype and malign conservative America.

In September, he made similarly pointed comments when he said that the tea party movement brings out "the worst in America."

"We didn’t have a tea party until we had a black president,” he said at an immigration forum at a local church. Asked to explain the comment, he added: "I was talking about how bigotry is alive and well in America.”

Sheriff Dupnik also has taken aim at Arizona's immigration law, which originally would have required law-enforcement officials to ask people who looked like illegal immigrants to provide proof of legal residency in the US. He said of the law: "it is unwise, it's stupid, and it's racist."

Before a federal court put a hold on the most controversial aspects of the law Dupnik vowed to not enforce it.

On Saturday, he pulled no punches again.

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," said Dupnik, who is a leading investigator of the shootings, which killed six and wounded 14, including Congresswoman Giffords Saturday.


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