Notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, found guilty in 2013 of racial profiling and violating Latinos' constitutional rights, has now been found in contempt of court for failing to curtail those practices and in fact flouting the judge's orders.
The ruling on Friday from U.S. District Judge Murray Snow "marked one of the biggest legal defeats" in Arpaio's career, wrote the Associated Press, and was expected to lead to greater court oversight of his office.
USA Today reports that the contempt proceedings were based on three alleged violations:
- That the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office failed to turn over video evidence required before the racial-profiling trial.
- That officials continued to enforce immigration law after Snow barred the practice.
- That [Chief Deputy Jerry] Sheridan failed to quietly collect evidence after the trial, as Snow had ordered him to do.
Three of Arpaio's top aides were also found in contempt.
"In short, the court finds that the defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the plaintiff class and the protection of its rights," Snow wrote in a 162-page finding of fact in the case.
For example, the Arizona Republic reports, "Snow found that deputies had detained and turned over to federal authorities at least 157 individuals who had not committed state crimes, in violation of his order."
Furthermore, Snow ripped into Arpaio's motives for his flagrant violations: "Sheriff Arpaio knowingly ignored the Court’s order because he believed that his popularity resulted, at least in part, from his enforcement of immigration laws.... He also believed that it resulted in generous donations to his campaign."
A hearing has been set for May 31, at which point Snow's court will "enter any applicable orders and determine if it will refer any matters for criminal contempt."
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That could have major implications, the Phoenix New Times reports:
Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, says the judge's language signals the possibility that Arpaio's case will be referred for criminal prosecution. In April of last year, Charlton notes, Sheridan and Arpaio admitted they were guilty of civil contempt in a bid to stop the trial.
Snow didn't bite.
[...] Criminal contempt of court is defined by federal statute as "willful disobedience" of the court's lawful orders and is punishable by up to six months in prison. A punishment for civil contempt would be coercive rather than punitive in nature, and might involve fines or other sanctions meant to ensure compliance.
The ACLU, which brought the original lawsuit against Arpaio, said the ruling meant that "willing or not, the sheriff will be made to comply with the law."
"The court has found that Sheriff Arpaio intentionally and repeatedly violated federal court orders," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "His recalcitrance ends here."
The Maricopa County sheriff is currently running for re-election. He has endorsed Donald Trump for president.