The nation’s best-known lawman, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, has been charged with contempt of court. Prosecutors claim that Arpaio, who has been a frequent target of the Obama administration over the conditions for inmates in Maricopa County jails, has flouted a court order in a racial profiling case. If convicted, the 84-year-old sheriff -- whose jurisdiction covers much of Phoenix -- could face as many as six months in jail if convicted. The criminal charge comes as Arpaio faces a re-election vote in November.
A misdemeanor charge was brought against Arpaio when U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton signed an order to show cause. According to local reports, the court document claimed that Arpaio willfully disobeyed a court order by making immigration-related arrests even after he was ordered to stop. The sheriff’s department employs about 4,000 people.
Judge Bolton ordered a trial in December. In response, legal counsel for Arpaio have filed a motion for a two-month extension of deadlines in order to review of policies and procedures at the sheriff's department. The U.S. Department of Justice, which has joined the case, and the plaintiffs have moved to block the extension.
In August, Arpaio told reporters, "The more they go after me, the more I'm going to keep fighting for the people here." At the time he could boast a campaign war chest amounting to more than $11.3 million. Arpaio said the accusations are “a bunch of garbage,” pointing out the coincidence that the charges were announced on the very day that early voting started. Arpaio said that he has an array of adversaries, including President Obama, pro-immigration activists, and billionaire financier George Soros. He has been in office since 1992.
In a new campaign ad, Arpaio said, “They’ve been after me since Day One for doing my job.
”This is all politics. Hillary gets a free pass, but they’re coming after me?” The embattled sheriff has been a vocal proponent of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions and spoke at the Republican National Convention.
The case against Arpaio dates back as far as a civil rights filing made by a Mexican-American man in late 2007 that became a class-action suit. Back in 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued an injunction that ordered Arpaio and his department to stop their alleged targeting of Latino drivers. According to prosecutors, deputy sheriffs defied the court injunction for 18 months. And in 2013, Judge Snow found that Arpaio’s department had engaged in racial profiling.
Arpaio is facing great odds in his quest for re-election, despite having won the last five races. A recent poll by Arizona State University/Arizona Republic showed that his Democrat rival, Paul Penzone, garnered 45.9 percent support as opposed to 31.1 percent for Sheriff Arpaio.
Before he endorsed Trump’s presidential campaign, Arpaio had long been the target of the ire of pro-immigration activists and humanitarian groups. Arpaio has long had a law-and-order stance with regard to illegal immigration. He was called to task for setting up tent cities for inmates and feeding them military rations, having argued that they should not have any better treatment that soldiers and marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also trained deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, who raided businesses where he believed illegal aliens were working under false identities, which is a violation of state law. For this, he has been criticized by the Obama administration. Arpaio had to cease the workplace raids after a federal court ruled that the state laws he was enforcing were probably unconstitutional. The federal government pulled its support of the officer training.
Immigrant rights groups and illegal aliens have been campaigning to defeat Arpaio. The Latino population in the Phoenix area has grown from 345,000 in 1990 to the current 1.3 million. The overall population has grown during that time from 2.1 million to 4.2 million, thus making Phoenix the fourth-biggest city in the U.S. Immigrant rights groups contend that approximately 200,000 residents turned 18 since the last sheriff’s election, and this year alone the groups say more than 150,000 Hispanics have registered to vote. That figure is almost twice the amount of Arpaio’s 80,000-vote margin of victory in the last election.
"Bazta Arpaio" is a political group that seeks to "end Arpaio's rule, prevent Trump's rise." It has organized canvassing of precincts in the Phoenix area, as well as a boycott of Discount Tire stores in the area. The group was incensed when the stores sprouted signs in support of Arpaio. The group is led by three young activists: Ernesto Lopez, Norma Jimenez, and Elisa Avalos.
Arpaio has struggled to get support from the two Republicans representing Arizona in the U.S. Senate. Neither John McCain nor Jeff Flake support Trump. And at a rally on October 23, Senator Flake shook the hand of Arpaio’s Democrat rival, Penzone, while he did not apparently grip and grin for Arpaio.