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Former sheriff Joe Arpaio

Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order that aimed to stop the former sheriff and his deputies from racially profiling Latinos. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

"America's Toughest Sheriff" Violated Court Order to Stop Racially Profiling Latinos

"Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way—no one, not even America's so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law."

Jessica Corbett

Joe Arpaio—the former sheriff from Maricopa County, Arizona, who famously ordained himself "America's toughest sheriff"—was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order mandating that Arpaio and his deputies refrain from racially profiling Latinos with traffic stops and detentions, based on suspicions about their immigration status.

"Ex-Sherriff Joe Arpaio broke the law by wrongfully targeting immigrants. Now, justice is being served."
—National Immigration Law Center

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said on Monday that Arpaio demonstrated a "flagrant disregard" for the order, rejecting the former sheriff's defense that the order was unclear and the violations unintentional. Arpaio, who is 85, could face up to six months in jail, and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5.

Even as he has faced legal battles for racial profiling and violating Latinos' constitutional rights, the former sheriff has become a prominent political and media figure during the immigration debates over the past several years. Prosecutors from the Justice Department used his own public statements about his and his officers' practices to secure this most recent conviction, the Los Angeles Times reported:

During the trial, which took place in a federal court in Phoenix, prosecutors argued that Arpaio intentionally violated the court order, which demanded his officers stop detaining people simply on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally—a practice that had led to the detention of some Latinos who were citizens or legal residents.

Prosecutors used Arpaio's own words against him, pointing to several media appearances throughout the years, including a Univision interview in March 2012 in which he admitted that he was still targeting people based on immigration status.

The conviction was lauded by the ACLU, which previously represented plaintiffs in a civil suit brought against Arpaio.

"This verdict is a vindication for the many victims of Joe Arpaio's immigration policies, which were unconstitutional to begin with, and were doubly illegal when Arpaio flouted the court's orders," said ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang. "Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way—no one, not even America's so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law."

"This verdict is a vindication for the many victims of Joe Arpaio's immigration policies, which were unconstitutional to begin with, and were doubly illegal when Arpaio flouted the court's orders."
—Cecillia Wang, ACLU 

Local immigrants rights activists with Puente Human Rights Movement also celebrated the ruling, and called on the county's current sheriff, Paul Penzone—who announced in February  that county jails would no longer detain individuals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement—to continue overhauling county police practices established under Arpaio.

"Justice for us means that Sheriff Penzone will do his due diligence and proceed to dismantle the hateful practices and the racist practices that have been implemented for the past 24 years," said Maria Castro, a Puente organizer.

Last November, Penzone defeated Arpaio, who was initially elected in 1992 and was running for his seventh term as sheriff. Arpaio's reelection bid "was undone by Latino voters who responded to his hard-line position on illegal immigration, which included workplace raids, frequent traffic stops, and harsh talk," the New York Times reported.

The New York Times further described Arpaio's long tenure as sheriff:

More than 50,000 such people were caught in Sheriff Arpaio’s roundups, or about 10 percent of the 500,000 undocumented immigrants believed to be living in Arizona, he boasted in 2012. His so-called saturation patrols, sweeps in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix, were routinely done without evidence of criminal activity, violating federal safeguards against racial profiling. At the same time, investigations on violent crimes, including dozens of sexual assault allegations, stalled or were abandoned altogether.

Arpaio's attorney said Monday he plans to appeal Judge Bolton's ruling in hopes of receiving a trial by jury. The sheriff was denied a jury trial in May because it was not legally required, due to the short length of his potential jail term.

Immigrants rights groups and politicians applauded Arpaio's conviction online:


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