Critics Say Arpaio’s Offer In Contempt Case Not Enough

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 6:34pm
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It came as a surprise to many this week when Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio acknowledged he violated a federal judge’s orders in a racial profiling lawsuit and agreed to civil contempt of court charges. But some of the sheriff’s critics worry he is just trying to prevent the full story from coming out in court testimony.

In court papers filed Tuesday evening, Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan admitted to U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow they violated the court’s orders in three different instances.

Among the failures, they admitted they never implemented one of Snow’s 2011 orders that mandated the sheriff’s office stop making immigration arrests. That means for months sheriff’s deputies kept arresting immigrants solely on the suspicion they were in the country illegally after Snow had ruled the policy was unconstitutional.

Arpaio and Sheridan offered a list of remedies to make up for their actions, including personally paying $100,000 to a Latino civil rights organization, setting up a county fund to compensate people wrongfully detained and dropping their partial appeal of Snow’s ruling in the racial profiling case.

Joel Robbins is an attorney who has sued the sheriff in other cases. He said this acknowledgement of wrongdoing isn’t typical Arpaio behavior.

“Because I’ve never seen him admit responsibility for anything,” Robbins said. “It is always his underlings’ fault.”

Robbins says by making this admission Arpaio is trying to avoid two things: the four-day evidentiary hearing Snow set in April where officers would have to testify about these violations, and the possibility the judge would refer this matter for criminal contempt charges.

“I think what he is trying to avoid is potentially being thrown in jail for having broken the federal court’s order,” Robbins said.

In the motion Arpaio and Sheridan’s attorneys filed with the court, they argue Snow has no reason to go ahead with the four day evidentiary hearing set for April 21-24 given that they don’t dispute they can be found in contempt of court.

“Under these circumstances, a 4-day evidentiary hearing, which would cost the county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and which would consume significant time of the Court, is unnecessary,” the motion reads.

But Lydia Guzman of the League of United Latin American Citizens isn’t convinced that is the real reason the sheriff  wants to avoid the hearing. She believes he wants to avoid the testimony and depositions that will be involved.   

“I think that the sheriff is trying to do his darnedest to try and cover up something he doesn’t want the people to know, he doesn’t want the judge to know,” Guzman said. “And I believe that the people and the courts should get to the bottom of this.”

Robbins also is hoping Snow will not cancel the April hearing.

“In a democracy we need to know what our government does,” Robbins said. “If our sheriff is potentially committing criminal activity, we need to know that. We can’t just trust that, 'oh you feel badly and that should be enough.' We need to know the facts.”

Snow has not yet indicated publicly what he makes of Arpaio and Sheridan’s offer. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the racial profiling suit and lawyers for the sheriff’s office declined a request to comment.

The parties are scheduled to meet with the judge in a previously set meeting this Friday afternoon.

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