One of America’s most famous sheriffs is in real trouble with the law.
Federal Judge G. Murray Snow ruled Friday that Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was in civil contempt in connection with a racial profiling case.
Three of Arpaio’s subordinates also violated court orders, the judge found.
“The court finds that the defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the plaintiff class (Latinos) and the protection of its rights,” Snow wrote. “They have demonstrated a persistent disregard for the orders of this court, as well as an intention to violate and manipulate the laws and policies regulating their conduct as they pertain to their obligations to be fair, ‘equitable(,) and impartial’ with respect to the interests of the plaintiff class.”
Arpaio was found in contempt on three counts while Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan was found in contempt on two counts and retired Chief Brian Sands and Lt. Joe Sousa were each found in contempt on one count.
“I never hide from media, but my policy has been I don’t talk about ongoing litigation,” Arpaio tweeted.
Arpaio’s attorneys issued a written statement saying they disagreed with some of the court’s findings and expect to “file a responsive memorandum.”
Arpaio has been dubbed “America’s toughest sheriff” because of his aggressive roundups of undocumented immigrants and attention-grabbing tactics such as clothing inmates in pink underwear.
A hearing is set for May 31 to assess penalties and remedies. The hearing will also determine if the judge will refer the case for criminal contempt, which carries possible jail time.
The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the ruling.
“(Arpaio’s) recalcitrance ends here. Strong remedies are needed to protect the community’s rights, starting with internal investigations that root out and punish misconduct,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Willing or not, the sheriff will be made to comply with the law.”
Lengthy legal case
A federal investigation of the sheriff’s office found that it engaged in discriminatory policing and jail practices. The sheriff’s office was notified of the formal federal investigation in March 2009 and for 18 months “consistently refused to cooperate” with it, the Justice Department said.
As a result, in September 2010, the federal government sued Maricopa County under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
During the 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.
In May of 2013, Snow ruled that Maricopa County’s handling of people of Latino descent was not thorough enforcement of immigration laws but instead was racial and ethnic profiling.
CNN affiliate KPHO reported that a monitor, overseeing reforms mandated by Snow, wrote in a report that Arpaio’s office was slow in making changes.