Judge seeks criminal contempt charges against Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Judge says Sheriff Arpaio was profiling (2013)
Judge says Sheriff Arpaio was profiling (2013)

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Story highlights

  • Judge: Arpaio failed to follow the court's instructions
  • Latino community leaders applaud judge's order

(CNN)Tough-talking Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio could soon be facing criminal charges himself.

Federal Judge G. Murray Snow has asked the US Attorney's Office to file criminal contempt charges against Arpaio and some of his subordinates over failure to follow the court's instructions in a racial profiling case.
    In May, Snow found Arpaio and three members of his office to be in civil contempt because they allegedly violated court orders designed to keep the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office from racially profiling Latinos.
    Continued failure to follow the directions of the court, along with false statements and attempts to obstruct further inquiry, justified the filing of criminal contempt charges now, Snow wrote Friday.
    So far, Arpaio hasn't commented on Snow's latest order.
    But after the judge's decision in May, Arpaio tweeted, "I never hide from media, but my policy has been I don't talk about ongoing litigation."

    'History of ... subversion'

    Arpaio has "a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court's orders that is as old as this case," Snow wrote, adding that he and a deputy "intentionally made a number of false statements under oath."
    "There is also probable cause to believe that many if not all of the statements were made in an attempt to obstruct any inquiry into their further wrongdoing and negligence," the judge continued.
    If the US Attorney's Office decides to file criminal charges and obtains a conviction, Arpaio could face fines and even jail time.
    If the office declines to pursue criminal contempt charges, Snow could appoint a special prosecutor to pursue the case, according to CNN affiliate KPHO.

    'Today is a vindication'

    Plaintiffs and Latino community leaders applauded Snow's order.
    "Today is a vindication," said Roberto Reveles, founding president of Somos America, one of the plaintiff organizations in the case. "No one is above the law, and we all have to be believers in the rule of law."
    Lawyer and community activist Daniel Ortega said the sheriff believed he's above the law.
    "It is our hope that the US attorney will see fit to do what is just and what's right," he said.
    Mary Rose Wilcox, a former Maricopa county supervisor who sued Arpaio over politically-motivated criminal charges, had a message for the sheriff.
    "Arpaio's problems have only just begun," she said. "I think this is the beginning of the end for Arpaio. ... You're going to be facing charges and may God have mercy on your soul."

    Sheriff spoke at Republican convention

    Arpaio's hard stance against immigration and his aggressive roundups of undocumented immigrants have garnered national attention and a conservative fan club. He established an outdoor prison consisting of tents back in 1993. He said it saved taxpayer's money, but critics called conditions inhumane.
    Arpaio has also engaged in attention-grabbing tactics such as clothing inmates in pink underwear and forcing prisoners to live on bread and water.
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    As recently as last year, Arpaio -- who bills himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff" -- was still insisting that President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen and that his birth certificate was fraudulent.
    An early public supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Arpaio spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
    But his notoriety may have worked against him as far as Snow was concerned. In his order, the judge wrote Arpaio continued to violate orders because of "the notoriety he received for, and the campaign donations he received because of his immigration enforcement activity."

    Allegations of discrimination

    In 2007, a class action lawsuit was filed against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office over discriminatory policing and jail practices. The decision in Ortega Melendres, et al. v. Arpaio, et al. alleged racial profiling, unlawful traffic stops and illegal detention of Latinos. Friday's recommendation of criminal contempt charges stems from that case.
    A federal investigation was opened in 2009, but the Justice Department said Arpaio's office "consistently refused to cooperate" over the course of 18 months.
    As a result, in September 2010, the federal government sued Maricopa County under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
    During that investigation, the Justice Department found that deputies "engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of law enforcement and jail activities that discriminated against Latinos," according to a December 2011 letter of finding by the department.