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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Finds Joe Arpaio in Contempt of Court

(CN) — A federal judge found Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three of his top officials in contempt of court on Friday for disobeying orders meant to curtail racial profiling in the sheriff's department.
The ruling stems from a 2007 class action against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office claiming officers in the agency racially profiled Latinos and unlawfully detained them during crime-suppression sweeps.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction in 2011 that prohibited sheriff's officers from illegally targeting Latinos. He followed that up with a court order in 2013, instructing Arpaio and the sheriff's office to take a number of steps to prevent racial profiling.
The six-term sheriff has acknowledged violating the judge's orders by letting his officers conduct immigration patrols 18 months after Snow barred them. He also took responsibility for his department's failure to turn over traffic-stop video evidence before trial.
Friday's ruling brings an end to a lengthy proceeding that started a year ago when Snow began a series of hearings to determine whether Arpaio and his aides flouted the judge's orders.
In his 162-page decision, Snow found that Arpaio and three of his deputies "have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonestly, and bad faith with respect to the plaintiff class and the protection of its rights. 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."
Snow held Arpaio in contempt on three counts and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan in contempt on two counts, and cited retired Chief Brian Sands and Lt. Joe Sousa on one count each.
Although Arpaio has maintained that his violations were not willful, the judge found that Arpaio's contempt "was both knowing and intentional."
Snow based his ruling on the violation of three instructions: not turning over video evidence that had been required before the racial-profiling trial; continuing to enforce an immigration law the judge had banned; and Sheridan's failure to quietly collect evidence after the trial, as ordered by Snow.
Snow said that Arpaio "knowingly ignored the court's order because he believed that his popularity resulted, at least in part, from his enforcement of immigration laws."
In 2011, immediately after the judge had issued the preliminary injunction, Arpaio issued a statement saying, "I will continue to enforce illegal immigration laws." Three months later, the sheriff's 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."
These statements indicate that Arpaio was aware of the preliminary injunction but nevertheless continued to enforce all federal immigration laws, Snow said.
The sheriff department's Human Smuggling Unit violated the preliminary injunction by continuing to arrest, detain and transport immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Border Patrol when it could not charge them for committing any state or federal crime.
Officers "used race as one factor among others in determining whom it would stop" and "detained persons for unreasonable periods of time to investigate their immigration status," Snow said.
At least 157 people were turned over to ICE or Border Patrol as a result of the unit's street-interdiction operations after the injunction was issued, the judge said.
When those who were targeted complained about their treatment, the department failed to conduct a thorough investigation and let officers remain in control of investigations in which they themselves had conflicts, Snow said.
"Ultimately, few persons were investigated; even fewer were disciplined. The discipline imposed was inadequate. The only person who received a suspension — for one week — was also granted a raise and a promotion," the judge said.
When it came to evidence for the trial, the sheriff's office withheld documents they were obligated to produce and lied about the existence of the documents in an attempt to justify their concealment, Snow said.
In addition, Arpaio and Sheridan "made multiple intentional misstatements of fact while under oath" during the evidentiary hearing, the judge said.
Arpaio and his office face a range of potential sanctions, including fines, restitution for those who were illegally detained during the prohibited immigration patrols, and tighter oversight of daily operations.
The judge set a hearing for May 31 on the possible penalties.
He noted that the court will at that time "determine if it will refer any matters for criminal contempt."
Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said that 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. Willing or not, the sheriff will be made to comply with the law," she said.     
Arpaio's team of attorneys, including John Masterson, Joseph Popolizio and Justin Ackerman with Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, issued a statement saying they are analyzing the judge's lengthy decision and plan to file a responsive memorandum.
"Despite disagreeing with some of the court's findings, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will continue to work the court appointed monitor, the ACLU and plaintiffs to comply with the court's orders, as it has since January 2014," the statement said.

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