‘Sheriff Joe’ Arpaio held in civil contempt for ignoring judge’s orders

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio © Brian Snyder
Joe Arpaio claims to be “America's Toughest Sheriff,” but now he’s seeing the criminal justice system from the other side. On Friday, a federal judge ruled Arpaio to have been in civil contempt of the court for ignoring the judge’s orders to end racial profiling.

The contempt charges were based on three alleged violations, AZ Central reported: failure to hand over video evidence that was necessary for the racial-profiling trial, continued enforcement of immigration law despite Judge Snow’s orders to stop and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan’s failure to collect evidence as he had been ordered to do.

The 82-year-old Arpaio claimed that he did not willfully ignore Judge Snow’s orders – and the court appointed monitor’s orders – but rather misunderstood them.

District Judge G. Murray Snow has some history with Arpaio, who has been in and out of court since 2007 for charges related to racial profiling. In 2011, Judge Snow ordered Phoenix’s sheriff to stop using traffic stops as a way of conducting immigration sweeps in Latino neighborhoods.

It all began when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist, was detained for nine hours by Arpaio’s deputies, despite being in the country legally. Melendres filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union and was joined by others. In 2013, Snow appointed a court monitor to ensure that Arpaio and his deputies complied with his orders.

Three years later, Judge Snow found that Arpaio has not done so.

"[T]he 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. They have demonstrated a persistent disregard for the orders of the Court, as well as an intention to violate and manipulate the laws and policies regulating their conduct…”’ he wrote.

Arpaio is not the only one named in the lawsuit. Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, retired Chief Brian Sands and Lt. Joe Sousa each were found in contempt as well.

So far, Phoenix taxpayers have shelled out $41 million in legal costs over the past eight years and are expected to pick up an addition $13 million in fees, KTAR reported.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo told KTAR that the money could have gone to flood-control improvements or giving raises to county employees who haven’t received one in four years. Arpaio’s salary is $100,000, and he owns $2 million in commercial real estate, according to KTAR.

Although he has not had to use any of his own money yet, Arpaio will be forced to pay for his own defense lawyers in relation to the contempt proceedings. He has reached out to supporters for donations.