America's Toughest (Former) Sheriff Guilty of Contempt

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 07, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has seen his fair share of lawsuits. The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" was sued by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations, and found to have routinely engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. He was sued by a newspaper for arresting its owners following some unfavorable coverage. He was sued again for discrimination and was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos on immigration patrols. Most recently, he was charged with contempt for disobeying a court order barring those immigration enforcement patrols.

(Arpaio also lost his bid for reelection last year, ostensibly losing his favored moniker as well.)

Last week, the former sheriff was found guilty of contempt for violating that court order and could be facing serious jail time.

Willful Violations

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled last Monday that Arpaio "willfully violated" the terms of a 2011 court order prohibiting him and his staff from racial profiling. Though it took four weeks to issue the ruling after the conclusion of a five-day trial, Bolton found that the evidence at trial proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Arpaio disobeyed a clear order barring the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office from stopping and detaining Latino motorists without reasonable suspicion, solely on suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

The order was issued following an ACLU lawsuit in 2011, but federal prosecutors allege the racial profiling of Latino drivers continued unabated for a year and a half after the injunction was issued, with 170 more people wrongfully detained, according to Reuters. "Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way," the ACLU said after the latest verdict, "no one, not even America's so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law."

Joe in Jail

Arpaio, now facing six months in jail and a fine, told Reuters he is "disappointed with [Bolton's] decision, but the case will be appealed." At trial, Arpaio argued the order wasn't clear, and admitted to inadvertently disobeying the injunction, but claimed the prosecution was politically motivated and aimed to undermine his re-election bid.

Arpaio will be sentenced October 5.

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