Feds will press criminal contempt charges against controversial Arizona Sheriff Arpaio

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. © Laura Segall
The federal government charged Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt charges for violating a judge’s order to stop immigration patrols that led to a court finding of racial profiling. If convicted, he could spend six months in jail.

The controversial sheriff is expected to be charged on Wednesday. If convicted of misdemeanor contempt, the 84-year old Arpaio could face six months in jail. The trial is expected to start December 6.

The charges are the latest development in a long-running legal battle over Arpaio’s policy of enforcing federal immigration laws. In December 2011, US District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction ordering Arpaio and his deputies to stop targeting Latino drivers. The Sheriff’s Office was discovered, after a three year investigation, to be detaining drivers solely on the belief that they were in the country illegally, without being suspected of a crime. Prosecutors alleged that Arpaio’s deputies defied the injunction for at least 18 months. In May 2013, Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office had engaged in racial profiling.

The Associated Press said Arpaio’s legal problems have cost the county’s taxpayers close to $50 million, and the litigation costs could go as high as $70 million.

The self-described “America’s Toughest Sheriff” faces re-election this November for his seventh term as Maricopa County Sheriff. He was first elected in 1992. He has most recently allied himself with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He said he will fight the latest charges.

“My point is this was strictly a political attack on this sheriff in this campaign,” Arpaio told the Arizona Republic. “I am not going to surrender. I am going to fight this all the way. And I expect to be re-elected.”