PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three deputies were held in civil contempt in a racial profiling case on Friday.
“In short, the court finds that the defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the plaintiff class and the protection of its rights,” U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wrote in a 162-page ruling.
Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, who is Arpaio’s second in command, has admitted being in civil contempt for failing to implement an injunction to stop the agency’s infamous immigration sweeps.
Arpaio had previously told a court that he did not understand the injunction.
A hearing in the case was scheduled for May 31. Snow could recommend Arpaio and the deputies be charged with criminal contempt, which could result in fines, probation or jail time.
In a statement, attorneys for the sheriff said although they disagree with the court’s findings, they will review the court document and expect to file a response.
The civil ruling will likely result in Snow ordering more substantial oversight for MCSO, KTAR legal analyst Monica Lindstrom said.
“I could see Judge Snow ordering that the Department of Justice has a heavier hand in the day-to-day activities of MCSO,” she said.
Arpaio’s racial profiling case has been ongoing for years.
A federal judge ruled nearly three years ago that Arpaio’s officers profiled Latinos. The judge ordered a series of changes at the agency, such as training on making constitutional traffic stops and requiring officers to wear body cameras.
However, a court monitor said Arpaio’s agency has been slow to make the changes and defied a previous order to halt his infamous immigration patrols.
In the monitor’s latest report, the sheriff’s office was found to be 61 percent in compliance in creating new policies and just 38 percent in compliance in carrying out operational changes — modest increases from the previous quarter.
The sheriff also conducted a secret investigation that critics say was intended to discredit Snow, who had ordered a sweeping overhaul of the agency after finding its officers had profiled Latinos. In the past, Arpaio has been accused of retaliating against his critics.
Snow is expected to require Maricopa County to compensate Latinos who were illegally detained during the 18 months when Arpaio’s office violated the prohibition on its immigration patrols.
Lawyers who pressed the case against Arpaio said at least 190 people were pulled over in violation of the order to stop immigration patrols, though they contend the number of victims is likely much higher. They said Arpaio violated the order because he wanted to look tough on immigration during a difficult election year and later used his powerful position to insulate himself from the consequences of his decision.
The civil contempt finding doesn’t disqualify Arpaio from holding office. It’s unclear whether a criminal contempt finding would prevent Arpaio from serving as sheriff.
A felony contempt conviction would force him from office, but the judge has the option of recommending either a misdemeanor or felony contempt case.
The case has cost Maricopa County millions of dollars.
The county has already shelled out $41 million over the past eight years in the racial profiling case and must keep covering those legal costs until Arpaio’s office is released from the supervision of the case judge.
In a statement, Supervisor Steve Gallardo said during a vote on the latest budget, the Board of Supervisors will appropriate money so that the sheriff’s office complies with court orders.
“It is unfortunate, that once again the taxpayers of Maricopa County have to pick up the tab for his mistakes,” the statement read. “The irony is, while citizens pay the bill for the Sheriff’s violation of the previous court orders, they are the only ones who can remove Arpaio from office and restore professionalism to our law enforcement agency.”
KTAR’s Mike Sackley and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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