Judge: Arpaio's Violations Require Court Action

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 8:50pm
Updated: Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 8:52pm

The federal judge presiding over the racial profiling case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio indicated in court on Thursday that he wants to start contempt proceedings against the sheriff for failing to comply with his orders. But the judge has invited lawyers from both sides to weigh in first.  

Judge Murray Snow said during the hearing he believes there have been serious violations by the sheriff’s office that require court action.

Snow ruled in May 2013 the sheriff’s office had racially profiled Latino drivers. A few months later, he followed up with another order mandating sweeping changes at the sheriff’s office, including the appointment of a court monitor to oversee compliance.

Several instances have come to light of the sheriff’s office’s failure to comply with the judge's instructions.

During Thursday’s hearing Snow cited one example: Even after he issued a preliminary injunction in 2011 that should have forced the sheriff’s office to stop making arrests based on immigration status, deputies in the Human Smuggling Unit continued doing so.

In a hearing last month, attorneys for the sheriff advised the court that sheriff’s commanders may have failed to ever notify line officers in the Human Smuggling Unit of that order.

“We now have a very long and thick record of blatant non-compliance by Sheriff Arpaio and the rest of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office thumbing its nose at the district court,” said plaintiffs' lawyer Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking after the hearing. “And that cannot continue.”

In court Snow said he thought the best course of action was to start civil contempt proceedings against Arpaio, and possibly others. He said if no civil remedies seem appropriate given the findings of that process, then he would appoint a federal prosecutor to start criminal contempt proceedings.

Criminal contempt could potentially result in criminal fines or even incarceration.

Snow gave attorneys from both sides until Jan. 8 to submit briefs on the issue.

“I think we need to take a hard look at what it is going to stop the agency and the sheriff from violating court orders and the U.S. constitution,” Wang said. “Whatever it takes to make that activity stop, that is what we are going to be pushing for.”

Tom Liddy, one of the attorneys for Arpaio, said his client is taking the judge seriously.

“Every time we find something that we think pertains to this case, the first thing we do is take it to the monitor, and then we take it to the court,” Liddy said.

Recently, Liddy and his team alerted the court of several boxes of documents and recordings that were potentially relevant to the racial profiling case but may not have been turned over to plaintiffs during the discovery phase of that trial.

“If there was an effort, an ongoing effort to hide or destroy these documents, why would the sheriff be bringing them to the attention for the court?” Liddy asked. “It makes no sense.”

Arpaio attended Thursday’s court hearing with a criminal defense attorney.

Snow suggested some sheriff’s commanders may also want to consider hiring criminal defense counsel as well.