(Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his county jail, July 29, 2010, in Phoenix.)
PHOENIX – Prosecutors said Tuesday they will charge Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt of court over .
The announcement was made the day before early voting starts in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid for a seventh term as metro Phoenix’s top law enforcer, his toughest fight yet after more than two decades in office. Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” made a name for himself cracking down on illegal immigration and forcing jail inmates to wear pink underwear.
The charges were revealed at a hearing to discuss issues raised byafter refusing to stop targeting Latinos in patrols.
Prosecutor John Keller said in court that the government will bring charges, with the next step being a court filing that’s akin to a criminal complaint.
Arpaio could face up to six months in jail if convicted of misdemeanor contempt. Arpaio has already beenin relation the the patrols.
Arpaio has acknowledged violating the order from U.S. District Judge Murray Snow but insists it wasn’t intentional. Snow disagreed, concluding Arpaio knowingly continued the patrols because he believed his immigration enforcement efforts would help his 2012 re-election campaign.
Chad Willems, Arpaio’s campaign manager, said the sheriff doesn’t have anything to worry about with the hearing occurring just before early voting begins.
“It’s more of a procedural matter at this point today. Our efforts and our internal numbers are showing the sheriff is in a very strong position going into early ballots,” Willems said.
Snow also requested criminal charges against Arpaio and his second in command, Jerry Sheridan, for withholding 50 hard drives in a secret investigation that critics say targeted Snow.
The racial profiling lawsuit that Arpaio lost more than three years ago morphed into a contempt case after the sheriff was accused of violating court orders. It revealed deep flaws in Arpaio’s internal investigations, which Snow said had been manipulated to shield sheriff’s officials from accountability.
Arpaio could face up to six months in jail if convicted of misdemeanor contempt.
Arpaio lawyer Mel McDonald said the sheriff will not be arrested and no mugshot will be taken. He will plead not guilty by court filing and hopes to prevail before a jury.
“We believe the sheriff, being an elected official, should be judged by his peers,” McDonald said.
The move is yet another key defeat for the sheriff who became a national political figure over the past decade by aggressively carrying out immigration patrols and attention-getting endeavors such as making prisoners wear pink underwear.
Following complaints by Latino drivers about racial profiling, a judge demanded that Arpaio stop the enforcement efforts. He was later found to have violated the order, causing it to morph into a contempt of court case.
Arpaio has acknowledged violating the order to stop the immigration patrols but insists his disobedience wasn’t intentional.