Federal judge finds Sheriff Joe Arpaio in contempt

Opponents of border security scored an emotional victory (if not much beyond that) in Arizona this week when a U.S. District Court judge found Sheriff Joe Arpaio in contempt of court over his insistence on enforcing immigration law. In what turned out to be a bizarre and occasionally heated display of courtroom drama, Judge Murray Snow set the stage for possible criminal charges against the nationally famous sheriff and two of his deputies over their failure to sufficiently follow all of his guidelines as to how they should enforce the law. (KFAR.com)

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three deputies were held in civil contempt in a racial profiling case on Friday.

“In short, the 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,” U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wrote in a 162-page ruling.

Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, who is Arpaio’s second in command, has admitted being in civil contempt for failing to implement an injunction to stop the agency’s infamous immigration sweeps.

Arpaio had previously told a court that he did not understand the injunction.

The charges stem from a series of orders which the judge handed down over the past several years, most of which seem to do with a demand that Arpaio and his staff stop pulling over and questioning Hispanic individuals near the border in Arizona if they were suspected of being in the country illegally. Having found the sheriff to be out of compliance, Arpaio could be going to trial for either civil contempt or criminal contempt. If it’s the former, Sheriff Arpaio would likely be looking at more oversight and restrictions on how he does his job, but a criminal contempt conviction would see him removed from office in addition to paying a fine and possibly doing jail time.

How much of this was straight forward investigation of alleged violations of the law as opposed to some sort of personal grudge between the judge and the sheriff remains an open question. As Arizona Central reported, things in the courtroom became heated on both sides and the two men seemed to have a score to settle.

The hearings, which started with four days of testimony in April and resumed with 16 additional days of testimony in the fall, often turned into a much broader discussion that focused on the sheriff’s enforcement priorities and whether he was more interested in settling political scores than rooting out the racial profiling that Snow found in the Sheriff’s Office.

Arpaio’s acknowledgment in April that his attorneys had hired a private detective to investigate Snow’s wife was among the most bizarre moments in the lengthy proceeding and set the tone for exchanges between Snow and Arpaio, his aides and attorneys that were occasionally pointed and personal.

Based on his past statements and general reputation, I find it difficult to believe that Arpaio is terribly upset or even worried about this contempt charge. He’s wagged his finger at more powerful figures in the past, up to and including the President of the United States. To at least some extent, I personally suspect that he enjoys the battle and thrives on the controversy since it increases his presence in the debate and allows him a larger platform. It seems to be working for him, since he won his last election battle in 2012 with 50.7% of the vote and staved off a recall petition drive in 2013. Joe is up for election again this year, so the timing of this battle with Judge Snow might be just what he’s looking for.