PHOENIX — A lawyer for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio urged a judge Thursday not to launch a criminal contempt-of-court case against the lawman for his agency's repeated violations of court orders in a racial profiling case that focused on his signature immigration patrols.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow is considering contempt-of-court cases against Arpaio and some top sheriff's aides for violating a December 2011 pretrial injunction that barred sheriff's deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they're in the country illegally.
Arpaio's managers never told rank-and-file members of his immigrant smuggling squad about the ruling, leaving officers to violate the order for 18 months, the judge has said.
Arpaio attorney Melvin McDonald acknowledged the agency made errors, but said there's no basis to bring a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to fines and even jail time. "While he may have his detractors, those who know him and have seen his service know that he would never knowingly and willfully disregard an order of any court," McDonald said, adding a contempt case would unfairly tarnish the six-term sheriff's legacy.
Nineteen months ago, Snow found the sheriff's office had systematically singled out Latinos in its patrols. Snow is requiring Arpaio's officers to video-record traffic stops, collect data on stops and undergo training to ensure they are making constitutional traffic stops. Arpaio disputes the court's conclusions.
Since making the profiling ruling, the judge has grown increasingly frustrated over documents that were withheld by the sheriff's office but were discovered after the case was tried and decided. Snow also has voiced frustrations over what he said were inadequate internal investigations into wrongdoing by Arpaio's smuggling squad, including whether a deputy was shaking down immigrants who were in the country illegally.
McDonald said the responsibility for carrying out the court's orders can't be solely left up to the sheriff and added that a criminal contempt case would be unfair, given the progress the agency is making in carrying out the remedies ordered.
Jerry Sheridan and Jack MacIntyre, two top sheriff's aides also being considered for contempt proceedings, filed court papers saying they weren't responsible for failing to tell rank-and-file officers about the 2011 injunction.
Lawyers who pressed the profiling case against Arpaio's office were expected to file papers saying there was a basis for contempt cases against sheriff's officials. The filing hadn't been made by the close of business Thursday.
Nearly a year after the profiling case was decided, it heated up again when IDs and items belonging to others and bags of evidence were found at the home of then-Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz, who was suspected of shaking down people who were in the country illegally.
After his arrest on a drug possession charge, Armendariz implicated his former smuggling squad colleagues, quit his job and later killed himself. He is relevant to the profiling case because he was a witness at its 2012 trial, and videos of his traffic stops were discovered after his arrest.
Another former smuggling squad member said it was a common practice for squad members to pocket items that they took in busts of smuggling safe houses.
McDonald said there is no evidence that the sheriff knew about the items kept in Armendariz's house and that any wronging by the officer shouldn't be pinned on Arpaio.
"While he can understand the court's frustration regarding the actions of a rogue deputy, those actions by former Deputy Armendariz represent an aberration, not the culture, of MCSO," McDonald said.