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Federal judge refers Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for criminal contempt charges

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — A federal judge has referred Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to another judge in the U.S. Attorney’s office to be held in criminal contempt on multiple charges, court documents said Friday.

Along with Arpaio, three others were also referred by U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, including Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Capt. Steve Bailey and former attorney for the Maricopa County Sherrif’s Office Michele Iafrate.

“He has been referring to the possibility that he would refer some of the persons in front of him on civil contempt charges or for criminal contempt if he found that the remedies available for civil contempt were not sufficient to ensure compliance in the future,” said Dan Pochoda, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.

“And today the judge did, in fact, refer all four of the persons who were found culpable of civil contempt including Sheriff Arpaio and his chief deputy Sheridan to the U.S. Attorney’s office here in Phoenix [to Judge] John Leonardo of a prosecution of criminal contempt, and the judge has indicated to Mr. Leonardo that if he finds that he’s not able to prosecute it directly…to let Judge Snow know and he will refer it to another prosecuting agency.”

Snow asked a new, randomly selected judge who turns out to be Leonardo to determine if Arpaio is guilty in violation of the court’s preliminary injunction on Dec. 23, 2011, for failing to disclose materials involved in his investigation of an 8-year-old profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.

“(Snow) found that the remedies and the consequences of the civil contempt are not sufficient given the long standing activities and decisions by the sheriff to fail to follow court orders and showed contempt for the court orders and the court process, and the judge in very clear terms said that additional sanctions are needed that are not available in the civil arena and that would be potential criminal penalties, which include much higher fines, possibility of some type of detention and so forth,” Pochoda said.

The documents mention Arpaio’s “intentional failure to comply with” the court’s order from April 23, 2015, among other things.

“The judge has done much of the leg work because he’s made very comprehensive findings about the activities of the sheriff and Chief Sheridan and has found them significantly below minimums, including his findings that they lied under oath on a number of occasions in court on the civil contempt proceedings, that they intentionally violated his court orders over and over,” Pochoda said.

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.

“We thought it was a warranted decision that the sheriffs had demonstrated contempt above and beyond the requirements for a civil arena, that they clearly rose in our opinion to the level of criminal contempt actions,” Pochoda said.

“We believe the community has been vindicated and deserves to have the sheriff, who has on many occasions [and] over many years violated their constitutional rights, face appropriate charges, in this case criminal contempt charges.”

The statement that ACLU of Arizona released match the same sentiment.

“A criminal prosecution of Sheriff Arpaio is the right next step for justice to be done,” said Cecillia Wang in the statement, who is director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “When a federal court finds that a law enforcement official has lied to the court in an effort to cover up misconduct, and willfully flouted court orders, that official must be held to account.”

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