- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The criminal trial of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio marks the most aggressive attempt by the government to hold the tough-talking lawman accountable for decisions that critics say led to racial profiling in his immigration patrols.

The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix is charged with misdemeanor contempt-of-court for defying a judge’s 2011 order in a racial profiling case to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. He is accused of prolonging the patrols for 17 months to promote his immigration enforcement efforts during his 2012 re-election campaign.

Arpaio acknowledges keeping the patrols going but insists his disobedience was unintentional. He blamed attorney Tim Casey, who represented him for nearly six years in the profiling case, for not properly explaining the importance of the court order.

Testimony at the trial has concluded and closing arguments are scheduled for next Thursday.

Casey testified he had several conversations with Arpaio about the order and that he quit as his attorney after he witnessed the sheriff’s growing resistance to court orders. Members of Arpaio’s elite immigration enforcement squad also were called to testify about what they knew about the order and how they responded to it.

Prosecutors did not follow through on plans to call two immigrants to testify who had been illegally detained when Arpaio prolonged his patrols. The U.S. Justice Department declined a request Friday to explain why the two witnesses were not called to the witness stand.

Arpaio also did not testify in his own defense.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Lawyers are scheduled to make closing arguments Thursday, and U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton will decide whether Arpaio is guilty of the criminal charge.

Prosecutors have cited news statements from the sheriff’s office in which the media-savvy sheriff acknowledged he was still enforcing immigration law. He also publicized his plan to detain immigrants who had not been arrested on state charges and were turned over to federal authorities.

During the testimony portion of the trial, the judge declined a request from prosecutors to play videos from TV interviews in which Arpaio said his office was still detaining immigrants who were in the country illegally. But prosecutors will be able to play those videos during closing arguments if the judge decides they are admissible.

While Arpaio’s lawyers discount the importance of the videos, the footage is believed to be important in trying to prove a key element of the case: That Arpaio knew about the order but defied it on purpose.

“I think the intentional evidence is the evidence that we haven’t seen yet,” Andy Jacob, a lawyer who isn’t involved in the case but has watched much of it as a court spectator.

One element of Arpaio’s defense is a claim that the judge’s order was not clear.

Attorney Jack Wilenchik, who serves on Arpaio’s legal team, said testimony on the trial’s opening day showed Casey believed the judge’s order to be ambiguous. “I think they lost it on day one,” Wilenchik said.

WHAT DID THE TRIAL REVEAL?

The trial, which began nearly nine months after Arpaio was voted out of office, revealed the backstory behind some of Arpaio’s efforts to garner publicity.

Sgt. Michael Trowbridge, a former member of Arpaio’s immigrant enforcement squad, said he once witnessed a tense exchange in which a colleague complained to Arpaio that a command the sheriff had issued would have violated a judge’s order.

Trowbridge said the sheriff wanted immigrants who had not been arrested on state charges and were going to be brought to federal immigration authorities to be held at the sheriff’s office until reporters could show up. Trowbridge said the idea was to let TV cameras capture footage of the immigrants - who were children - leaving his building.

His longtime publicist, Lisa Allen, said Arpaio regularly looked for opportunities to issue news releases about his office’s operations.

She said Arpaio edited and signed off on most of his news releases. Allen also said she tried unsuccessfully to encourage Arpaio to cut back on the volume of news releases, out of a concern that he was oversaturating the media with his message.

“If the media didn’t pick it up, he didn’t care,” Allen said.

PAST INVESTIGATIONS:

While Arpaio has undergone past criminal investigations of his office, the contempt case marks the first time a criminal charge had been filed against him.

He faced a federal investigation about five years ago on allegations that he retaliated against two local officials and a judge at odds with him by accusing them of corruption.

His office also was investigated for misspending more than $100 million in jail funds, including money spent on failed investigations into rival officials and his immigration patrols.

Neither investigation led to prosecution of the sheriff or his employees.

___

Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud


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