A federal judge in Arizona found former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt on Monday for violating an order in a racial-profiling case.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said the evidence in the case showed a “flagrant disregard” for a 2011 court order that required the sheriff to stop detaining people unless they were suspected of a crime.
The 85-year-old Arpaio, who lost a reelection bid last year, earned a reputation during his tenure for his tough stance against illegal immigration and headline-grabbing approach to criminal justice, dressing inmates in pink underwear and operating an open-air “tent city” jail in the scorching Arizona heat.
Arpaio, notoriously media-friendly, embraced his reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff.”
But his renegade approach to law enforcement also attracted litigation. One class-action lawsuit that began a decade ago accused the sheriff’s office of racial profiling of Hispanics during traffic stops.
In 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow issued an order that prohibited the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office from detaining people without reasonable suspicion of a crime.
On Monday, Bolton found Arpaio “willfully violated” that order when he told his subordinates to continue to detain people who couldn’t be charged with a crime and failed to instruct them otherwise.
The federal judge said Arpaio “broadcast to the world and to his subordinates” that he wouldn’t change his approach to law enforcement.
In one of several examples cited in Monday’s verdict, Arpaio told the Spanish-language media outlet Univision in March 2012 that he had continued to detain and arrest undocumented immigrants despite the judge’s order.
“If they don’t like what I’m doing, get the laws changed in Washington,” Arpaio told Univision, a statement Bolton cited in her decision.
The former lawman, who is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 5, faces a maximum of six months in jail for the misdemeanor offense.