PHOENIX (AP) - Joe Arpaio, the defiant Arizona sheriff known for his immigration crackdowns, faces hearings beginning Tuesday over whether he should be held in contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s orders in a racial profiling case.
The hearings mark the boldest attempt to hold Arpaio personally responsible for his actions since his get-tough jail policies and immigration patrols made him a national political figure and brought a spate of lawsuits.
Arpaio has survived many legal and political storms during his 22-year career and defied predictions that his troubles in court would cost him his post as metro Phoenix’s chief law enforcer.
The contempt case differs from others against Arpaio. The judge has made it clear that the sheriff, whose past legal bills and settlements have been picked up by taxpayers, will have to pay a fine out of his own pocket to atone for his acknowledged violations. Other punishments could come into play, too.
Here is a look at the case and what is being decided this week:
HOW HE GOT HERE
Nearly two years ago, a federal judge concluded Arpaio’s officers had systematically racially profiled Latinos in the sheriff’s regular traffic and immigration patrols. Arpaio vigorously disputes the finding, but he was ordered to make changes. U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has grown frustrated with the sheriff’s office for failing to abide by his decisions, mischaracterizing his ruling and carrying out inadequate investigations into wrongdoing by Arpaio’s signature immigrant smuggling squad. As those frustrations mounted, the judge ordered this week’s contempt hearing.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HEARING
The judge will decide whether Arpaio, three current aides and a retired sheriff’s official should be held in contempt of court for violating a 2011 order that barred the office from conducting immigration patrols. The immigrant squad and other deputies weren’t told about the injunction, and they continued to violate the order for about 18 months. The sheriff and his second-in-command, Jerry Sheridan, have acknowledged violating the order, while the remaining aides aren’t conceding that they are in contempt of court. Brian Sands, a retired Arpaio aide, says the sheriff rejected his suggestion that the court order be circulated among squad members.
Arpaio, the four targeted aides and the sheriff’s former lawyer are among the nearly two dozen people on witness lists. Others include members of the immigrant squad, the sheriff’s director of training and an agency spokesman.
Arpaio and his aides could face fines. The judge has said he intends on later launching a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to jail time. The sheriff and Sheridan proposed paying $100,000 from their own pockets to a civil rights organization in an unsuccessful bid to head off the civil contempt hearings.
County taxpayers have paid $6.8 million in attorneys’ fees, and the county also has forked over $2.6 million to pay a staff that is monitoring the sheriff on behalf of the judge. Taxpayers also are picking up the costs of video cameras in patrol vehicles and the creation of a fund to compensate people harmed by the violation of the 2011 order that barred Arpaio’s immigration patrols.
The legal costs from the profiling case are part of the $74 million that the county has paid in judgments, settlements and legal fees for the sheriff’s office during Arpaio’s tenure. Some settlements resolved lawsuits filed over the treatment of inmates in Arpaio’s jails and the sheriff’s failed corruption investigations of political foes.
Despite the allegations against Arpaio in the profiling case, it’s unclear whether they will hurt the sheriff’s chances next year at winning a seventh term. His political strength has been gradually declining over the last four election cycles, but his base of devoted supporters and impressive fundraising help him pull out wins. His latest campaign finance report said he has raised $2 million, and no one has announced that they would challenge him next year.
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