A federal judge on Friday recommended criminal charges against Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who made himself famous by racial profiling Hispanics and his own brand of law enforcement against people he believes to be undocumented immigrants.
Judge G. Murray Snow of Federal District Court in Phoenix referred criminal charges not just for Arpaio, but also his top deputy, Jerry Sheridan, Capt. Steve Bailey and Arpaio’s former attorney Michele Iafrate. Federal prosecutors will decide if charges will be filed against them.
“Criminal contempt serves to vindicate the court's authority by punishing the intentional disregard of that authority,” Snow wrote in his ruling.
Snow stripped Arpaio of some of his authority, including conducting internal-affairs investigations. Even if he charged and found guilty, it may not necessarily prevent him from holding office.
While Arpaio, 84, has faced lawsuits before, this is the first time he would be held personally responsible. He is up for re-election on Aug. 30 for his seventh term for sheriff in Maricopa County.
In 2013, Snow ruled the Maricopa County sheriff’s department had violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers and passengers by racial profiling them. The department was ordered to stop targeting minorities and undergo an internal investigation. Since it was filed in 2007, the lawsuit has cost Maricopa taxpayers over $50 million, mainly because the sheriff’s department has refused to comply with Snow’s orders.
In May, Snow held Arpaio in contempt of court for refusing to comply with ruling. At Arpaio’s last chance to appeal at a July hearing, Snow said Arpaio and Sheridan “lied to my face.” “I am through putting up with this stuff,” Snow warned.
Arpaio, a star among anti-immigration activists, gave a typical-for-him fearmongering speech at the Republican National Convention on the final night. “Unfortunately, we are losing the battle — we are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations' ahead of course,” he said. “We are more concerned with the rights of illegal aliens and criminals than we are with protecting our own country. That must change.”
His speech got loads of cheers, similar to former Sen. Storm Thurmond’s 1949 speech at the States' Rights Democratic Party Convention . But Arpaio had to return to Arizona almost immediately, since he was due back in court the next day.