PHOENIX (CN) — The Justice Department will pursue criminal contempt charges against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over violations of a federal judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
The announcement came Tuesday morning during a status conference scheduled following a criminal referral from U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow in August against Arpaio, Chief Deputy Gerald Sheridan, Capt. Steve Bailey, and Arpaio's former attorney Michele Iafrate.
Meanwhile, early voting begins Wednesday in Maricopa County, where Arpaio is up for re-election. The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" has suffered waning popularity following the eight-year racial profiling case, which has cost taxpayers nearly $50 million in legal fees.
John Keller, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, indicated that the government would not pursue criminal charges against Sheridan, Bailey and Iafrate, however, over the concealment and obstruction of evidence because the statute of limitations has run out.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who will oversee criminal contempt proceedings, said she would need to look into the matter further due to a delay in the civil contempt proceedings following a motion by Arpaio to disqualify Snow.
"They were adjourned for a substantial period of time for a motion to disqualify the judge, so they could not continue while that was considered," Bolton said.
The charges stem from proceedings held in 2015 that led to Snow finding Arpaio, Sheridan, and two other sheriff's aides guilty of civil contempt for violating orders to stop racially profiling Latinos following a 2007 class action.
Snow had issued a preliminary injunction in the class action in 2011, banning sheriff's deputies from stopping and detaining Latinos based on their race.
Shortly after the injunction, Arpaio issued a statement saying, "I will continue to enforce illegal immigration laws." Three months later, the department issued another statement saying, "Arpaio remains adamant about the fact that his office will continue to enforce both state and federal illegal immigrations laws as long as the laws are on the books."
Snow found those statements to be evidence the six-term lawman was aware of the preliminary injunction but unlawfully continued to enforce all federal immigration laws.
Due to concerns about the statute of limitations, Bolton agreed to separate the criminal contempt charge over violation of the preliminary injunction against Arpaio from the other charges.
Keller asked Bolton to accept a sentencing cap of six months against the 84-year-old Arpaio due to his age, and to proceed with the criminal contempt charges as a bench trial rather than before a jury. But Mel McDonald, Arpaio's attorney, raised concerns with a bench trial.
"We would need to do some research on the issue of whether or not we would be entitled to a jury trial," McDonald told Bolton.
McDonald asked Bolton to prepare "some type of a charging document," to officially lodge criminal contempt charges against Arpaio.
Bolton agreed, and will issue an order to show cause that will include Judge Snow's order "as the essential facts constituting the charged contempt."
The criminal contempt trial against Arpaio is scheduled for Dec. 6. McDonald said he would ask for additional time to prepare.
Arpaio will not be arrested or arraigned on the charges, and McDonald said he would enter a not guilty plea on behalf of the lawman.
While Arpaio easily won his primary race in August with 66 percent of the vote, the battle against Democratic challenger Paul Penzone is expected to be close.
Arpaio narrowly beat Penzone, a former Phoenix police officer, in 2012, with 50 percent of the vote. A July poll conducted by the Lincoln Strategy Group showed Penzone ahead of Arpaio, 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent.
Penzone filed a defamation lawsuit against Arpaio last month, claiming Arpaio's campaign is airing attack ads falsely accusing Penzone of assaulting his ex-wife.
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