Controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero to conservatives for his anti-immigrant rhetoric and brutal tactics against Latinos and immigrants, could face criminal fines or jail time for being in contempt of court.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow referred Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, to the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday to decide whether to prosecute him for ignoring court orders to halt the office’s racial profiling of Latinos — months after Snow had ordered the immigration-focused patrols stopped. If the federal prosecutors take the case, boosting it from civil to criminal charges, Arpaio could be found guilty and potentially affect his race this year for a seventh term as sheriff.
Judge Snow said that Arpaio and Sheridan “have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case.” This means Arpaio may have made several false statements under oath, and, Snow continued, “there is also probable cause to believe that many if not all of the statements were made in an attempt to obstruct any inquiry into their further wrongdoing or negligence.”
“We’re moving forward, we’re doing our job,” Arpaio told the Arizona Republic. “There’ll be aggressive appeals.” His lawyer said they would request a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s office and “[urge] them not to go forward with it.”
This all stems from an eight-year-old racial profiling case, decided in 2013, which found that Arpaio’s office was pulling over and wrongfully detaining Latino drivers based on the color of their skin. Arpaio’s lawyers have denied this, but courts have found otherwise. Plaintiffs and activists have sought reform and training to stop racial profiling in the sheriff’s office.
“But since then, Arpaio has made insincere efforts to address racial biases, including holding court-required community outreach meetings in districts with few Latino residents and declining to show up at meetings,” ThinkProgress’ Esther Lee reported last year.
Lee continued in her analysis:
Arpaio is no stranger to using provocative tactics against suspected undocumented immigrants. Since 1993, his sweltering outdoor jail known as “Tent City” has held thousands of immigrant detainees in the brutal Phoenix heat. His immigration raids are indiscriminate to age and medical condition, arresting children as young as 6 and pregnant women. Arpaio also once promised to issue automatic weapons to his deputies to catch “illegal aliens attempting to escape.”
This case has proven costly to Phoenix residents, beyond the practical, moral, and emotional toll of racial profiling of friends and neighbors: Maricopa county taxpayers have to pick up a growing legal tab to pay for Arpaio’s legal bills, recently estimated to be $54 million. This makes Arpaio’s refusal to comply with court orders, and lethargy in instituting new training programs and oversight mechanism all the more unbearable.
Still, Arpaio has asked his supporters in email solicitations to help pay for his own personal lawyer.
Arpaio spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month in a high-profile Thursday primetime spot, extolling the GOP nominee’s virtues and lauding the plan to “build that wall.”
“We are more concerned with the rights of illegal aliens and criminals than we are with protecting our own country,” he said, after days of holding court at the convention as a rock star, taking pictures with delegates. The next day Arpaio flew back to Phoenix to appear in federal court, where his lawyers argued — unsuccessfully it now appears — that he should not be referred for criminal charges.