(CN) – Former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt on Monday for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants.
Citing the former sheriff’s defiant statements in TV interviews and directives he gave employees to keep arresting undocumented aliens, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found Arpaio willfully violated a preliminary injunction.
“Not only did defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” Bolton wrote in her 14-page ruling.
Arpaio’s attorneys on Monday vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling, saying the “verdict is contrary to what every single witness testified in the case:” that the court order Arpaio is accused of violating was “not clear.”
During a four-day bench trial in June, Arpaio’s attorneys blamed his failure to comply with a federal judge’s preliminary injunction on subordinates and a former attorney, saying the lawyer misguided him about the scope of the order.
Bolton rejected that argument, finding the sheriff’s office’s attorney Timothy Casey told Arpaio that he could no longer detain individuals based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally. The lawyer also told Arpaio that his “backup plan” to hand over to Border Patrol agents any detainees that Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to take was “likely” a violation of the order, according to the ruling.
Arpaio gave a lieutenant a direct order to transport non-felons that ICE refused to take into custody more than hour to a Border Patrol station in Casa Grande, Arizona, according to witness testimony.
“This meant, in effect, that MCSO officers were required by defendant to detain persons not suspected of any crime for the additional hour and 15 minutes to hour and 30 minutes it took to deliver the detainees to the nearest Border Patrol station,” Bolton wrote in her ruling. “These detentions, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, were exactly what the preliminary injunction intended to stop.”
In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ended a two-year agreement that had authorized the county’s officers to enforce federal immigration laws. In December 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ordered the sheriff’s office to stop detaining people without a reasonable suspicion that they violated a state law, the only type of crimes the sheriff’s department was authorized to enforce.
After the injunction was issued in 2011, prosecutors say Arpaio used his defiant stance to help raise millions of campaign dollars from across the county.
In May 2012, the former sheriff told Fox News, “I’m not going to give it up. I’m going to continue to enforce state laws and federal laws,” according to Bolton’s ruling.
Arpaio won a sixth term as sheriff in 2012, but lost his bid for a seventh term in 2016 to Paul Penzone, a Democract, after serving 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County.
Arpaio believes that a jury would have found him not guilty of criminal contempt, according to a statement issued by his lawyer.
“Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul, and he will continue his fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence, and to protect the public,” his attorney Jack Wilenchik said in an emailed statement Monday.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5.