Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio found guilty of criminal contempt in racial profiling case

PHOENIX – Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is guilty of criminal contempt for deliberately defying a court order arising from a racial profiling case, a federal court judge ruled on Monday.

Another federal court judge had ordered Arpaio to stop the practice of arresting motorists solely on suspicion they might be in the country illegally, but Arpaio “announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton wrote in her verdict Monday.

“Because the court finds that defendant willfully violated an order of the court, it finds Defendant guilty of criminal contempt,” the ruling said.

Arpaio, 85, who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff” during more than two decades in office and drew national attention for his unapologetic stance to stop illegal immigration, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5. He faces up to six months in prison.

His attorneys said they would appeal.

Arpaio’s office had good reason to pull over motorists, defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik said.

“What the sheriff’s office interpreted that (court order) to mean, what everyone at the trial interpreted that to mean, is that you don’t stop someone just for being an illegal alien,” Wilenchik said.

“The confusion here is that’s not what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing. Police generally stop someone for criminal violations. That’s exactly what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing,” Wilenchik said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and a community group hailed the decision.

“This verdict is a vindication for the many victims of Joe Arpaio’s immigration policies, which were unconstitutional to begin with, and were doubly illegal when Arpaio flouted the court’s orders,” ACLU legal director Cecilia Wang said in a statement. “Joe Arpaio learned his lesson the hard way — no one, not even America’s so-called toughest sheriff, is above the law.”

Angeles Maldonado, a member of the Community Advisory Board, said it was a “moment of vindication.” A court order established the board under the oversight of the ACLU, to monitor MCSO’s progress in halting racial profiling and improving the department’s relationships with residents, especially the Latino community.

“Sheriff Arpaio has been a symbol of pain and trauma for our communities for many years,” Maldonado said. “We are pleased that justice is finally a little bit closer to us.”

Current Sheriff Paul Penzone’s office said in a statement that the verdict ends Arpaio’s “disservice and distractions” and allows the office “to improve quality of relations with the community.”

Arpaio’s defense attorneys said during Arpaio’s trial before Bolton in June that he did not intentionally violate a 2011 order from U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow “from detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed,” the verdict document says.

But Bolton disagreed, outlining specific examples in news releases and media interviews of Arpaio vowing to continue the practice of detaining persons suspected of being illegal and turning them over to federal immigration authorities.

In fact, the sheriff’s office took detainees that Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t accept to the nearest Border Patrol station in Casa Grande, even though they were “not suspected of any crime,” the document says.