Sheriff Joe Arpaio found guilty of criminal contempt for ignoring order to stop racial profiling

“He announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio leaves the federal courthouse on Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Angie Wang
Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio leaves the federal courthouse on Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Angie Wang

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who once claimed to be “America’s toughest sheriff,” was found guilty of criminal contempt after defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling immigrants, according to a court decision on Monday.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of the court for willfully violating a federal judge’s order. Arpaio — the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona between 1993 and 2016 who made life difficult for immigrants and detainees of color — faces up to six months in prison with sentencing scheduled for October 5.

The charge follows a 2011 court order by U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow forcing Arpaio to stop racial profiling people based on the color of their skin. Arpaio’s police department was found to routinely racially profiled Latinos, by prolonging traffic stops to determine the immigration status of individuals.

The verdict rejected Arpaio’s defense that Snow’s order was unclear and that the violations were unintentional. Rather, the court cited Arpaio’s willingness to “continue to keep doing what he had been doing” even the 2012 preliminary injunction required that he stop pursuing the arrest or detention of people “merely based on the belief or suspicion, or reality, that they were here in this country illegally alone.” The court also indicated that Arpaio failed to follow up with his subordinates to see if the order was being complied with.

“Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” the ruling pointed out.

In a public statement, Arpaio’s attorneys said he will appeal to get a jury.

Court battles over Arapio’s tactics have cost Arizona taxpayers more than $50 million dollars.

Arpaio’s abject treatment of incarcerated immigrants and other detainees at the outdoors Tent City in triple-digit Arizona desert heat vaulted him to nationwide fame. He routinely disparaged Latinos using derogatory terms like “wetback,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.” He has forced detainees to wear pink underwear and trotted them out in public to humiliate them. And his immigration raids were indiscriminate — children and pregnant women were among those detained and handcuffed. Arpaio also once promised to issue automatic weapons to his deputies to catch “illegal aliens attempting to escape.”

“This is a reminder that this has been a long fight,” Viridiana Hernandez
the Executive Director at the human rights organization Center For Neighborhood Leadership, said in an emailed statement. “I have mixed feelings right now. I feel relief and excitement because this is a community victory but I’m also reflecting on all the pain and trauma this person caused so many immigrant families like mine. When my dad’s work was raided we went into hiding, we abandoned our home, he was unemployed for years, our family the hardship of this man. Today, my family like thousands of other families will get some [peace], they will get some justice.”

The piece has been updated to include Hernandez’s statement.