Judge to consider criminal contempt charge against Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio at Friday hearing

Posted at 11:08 PM, Jul 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 18:44:16-04

An attorney for the longtime Maricopa County sheriff will urge a judge Friday to recommend against a criminal contempt-of-court case for the lawman who ignored court orders in a racial profiling case.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his second-in-command were found in civil contempt two months ago for intentionally ignoring an order to stop their immigration patrols. They now face the possibility of a criminal contempt case that could result in fines or jail time.

Arpaio and Jerry Sheridan were previously found to have made several intentional misstatements of facts last year during their contempt hearings.

The two deliberately misstated facts when denying that the agency had conducted an investigation of the judge, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow found.

If Snow recommends a criminal contempt case, it will be up to federal prosecutors to decide whether to bring the complaint to court. If the prosecutors decline, the judge still has the option of hiring a private attorney to press the case.

It's unclear whether a criminal finding would prevent Arpaio, who is seeking a seventh term this year, from serving as sheriff. A felony contempt conviction would force him from office, but the judge has the option of recommending the case as a misdemeanor crime instead of a felony.

Arpaio, a staunch supporter of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, delivered a speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

A series of punishments are expected from Snow's earlier civil contempt ruling.

The first was issued Wednesday when the judge ordered an overhaul of the sheriff's internal affairs investigations, after finding previously that internal investigations into officer misconduct had been manipulated to shield sheriff's officials from accountability.

The quality of internal investigations emerged after traffic-stop videos withheld at the profiling trial were later discovered at the home of an officer who had been arrested on suspicion of theft.

The judge is expected in coming days to approve a fund to compensate Latinos who were detained in violation of the order to stop the immigration patrols. The lawyers who won the profiling case also have asked the judge to require Arpaio himself to pay $300,000 of his own money into the fund.

Arpaio, who earns $100,000 annually as sheriff and owns commercial real estate worth more than $2 million, hasn't had to pay for the legal bills directly tied to his official duties in any of the lawsuits filed against him during his 23-year tenure as sheriff. Taxpayers are projected to spend $54 million in the profiling case by next summer.

In a filing earlier this week, Arpaio attorney Mel McDonald said Arpaio regrets the mistakes that led to the civil contempt violations, has made significant strides in complying with court-ordered changes imposed on his office and cited the sheriff's lengthy law enforcement record.

"It would severely undermine these positive changes and unfairly tarnish the legacy of a public servant who has given over a half century of extraordinary service to the citizens of this country," McDonald wrote.

A criminal contempt case could bring personal financial hardship to Arpaio and managers on his staff, McDonald said.

In another court filing, a lawyer for Sheridan blamed another sheriff's manager for prolonging the immigration patrols and disputed that his client was untruthful with the judge and court officials