Criminal Justice

Federal judge refers Sheriff Joe Arpaio for criminal prosecution

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Joe Arpaio

Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Joseph Sohm /

A federal judge on Friday ordered Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution as a result of alleged violation of a court order barring racial profiling.

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow referred for prosecution Arpaio and three others, report the Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times and the New York Times. The others are Arpaio’s former lawyer Michele Iafrate; Arpaio’s second-in-command, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan; and Capt. Steve Bailey, who led internal affairs investigations in the office.

Snow said Arpaio and Sheridan “have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case.” Snow issued a preliminary injunction in 2011 that found the sheriff’s office could not detain individuals only because they were believed to be in the country illegally. Yet “Sheriff Arpaio intentionally did nothing to implement that order,” Snow said.

Arpaio’s deputies continued to detain persons and delivered them to immigration officials though there were no state charges against them, Snow said. “Sheriff Arpaio did so based on the notoriety he received for, and the campaign donations he received because of, his immigration enforcement activity,” Snow wrote in the order (PDF).

Both Arpaio and Sheridan were found in civil contempt in May.

Snow said Iafrate was being referred for prosecution because of allegations she instructed officials not to voluntarily disclose information about 1,459 ID cards that had been seized. Snow noted differences in testimony about Iafrate’s advice, but said that, to the extent that she advised the officials not to disclose the IDs, her behavior qualified as criminal contempt.

Snow referred Bailey for allegedly failing to disclose the existence of the ID cards and misstating the facts to a court-appointed monitor.

The case that led to Snow’s referral was filed on behalf of Hispanic drivers who claimed they were targeted by sheriff’s deputies. Snow ordered creation of a $500,000 fund to compensate drivers who were pulled over despite his order stopping the department’s immigration patrols.

Arpaio told the Arizona Republic there will be “aggressive appeals” in the case. Arpaio’s lawyer, Mel McDonald, told the newspaper he believes the evidence is insufficient to make the referral.

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