Sheriff Paul Penzone of Arizona's Maricopa County says he's stepping down a year early in January

FILE - Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone speaks at a news conference in Phoenix on Feb. 14, 2019. In a surprise announcement, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, Penzone said he's resigning in January 2024 after serving almost two terms. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
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PHOENIX (AP) — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Monday that he is resigning in January, a full year before his term ends.

Penzone said at a news conference that he decided to step down and not seek a third term so he can explore other possibilities in public service. He didn't elaborate.

"I think it would be appropriate to depart from the office in January and clear the way so that during the last year of my term going into the election there aren’t distractions,” Penzone said.

Penzone is credited with ending some of the polices of his predecessor Joe Arpaio, which have been widely criticized as anti-immigrant and racist. The department runs the county jail and oversees enforcement of the unincorporated areas of Arizona's most populous county.

After roundly defeating Arpaio in the 2016 election, Penzone tore down an outdoor jail, dubbed “Tent City,” that had been widely mocked.

Penzone, a Democrat, in 2020 defeated another Republican challenger who had served in the department under Arpaio, also a Republican.

But Penzone said at the news conference that the department remains under a “dark cloud” from Arpaio's tenure.

During his 24 years in office, Arpaio styled himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and in 2010 became a lightning rod for resistance to Arizona’s so-called “show me your papers” law, which later was struck down in part by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal court order still requires the department to be watched by a court-appointed monitor after a 2013 racial profiling verdict over Arpaio’s immigration crackdowns.

A federal judge concluded the sheriff’s office had profiled Latinos in patrols that targeted immigrants, leading to massive court-ordered overhauls of both the agency’s traffic operations and its internal affairs department.