Arpaio Asks Judge Not To Pursue Contempt

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, January 9, 2015 - 9:43am
Updated: Friday, January 9, 2015 - 11:32am

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is asking a federal judge to not pursue contempt proceedings against him, while the attorneys who sued him for racial profiling are urging the judge to do so.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow, who is overseeing the racial profiling case against the sheriff, had threatened Arpaio and some commanders with contempt for violating his orders.

Snow has said he has a number of reasons for wanting to punish the sheriff and other leaders.

One of them dates back to December 2011. That’s when the judge first ordered the sheriff’s office to stop detaining immigrants solely for being in the country without authorization.

But despite the fact that four commanders received an email about the order from their attorney, they apparently never told line deputies about the order.

There is evidence that deputies continued to make those forbidden arrests and violate Snow's order for the next 18 months.

In a December court hearing, Snow said he was considering initiating civil contempt proceedings against the sheriff, but if the penalties did not seem adequate enough, he would appoint a U.S. Attorney to pursue criminal contempt charges.

Snow also indicated that Chief Jack MacIntyre, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Lt. Joseph Sousa and former Chief Brian Sands could face contempt too, since they received an email about the 2011 order but had failed to disseminate the information.

The punishment for contempt could be fines or incarceration. 

Snow invited all of the parties to weigh in on the matter by Jan. 8. 

In court filings submitted on Thursday, lawyers for the sheriff acknowledged past mistakes, but said there isn’t a basis to pursue contempt proceedings. In separate memos from both civil and criminal attorneys, they listed the progress the sheriff made complying with the judge's other orders, and insisted any violations of the judge’s orders were not willful.

Arpaio, Sheridan and MacIntyre also each filed signed declarations saying they shouldn’t face criminal contempt.

“While I have, at times, been critical of decisions within the Federal and State Judiciary,” reads Arpaio’s declaration. “I have never in my professional career contemptuously violated court orders that affect my responsibilities or the responsibilities of any agency or department with which I was affiliated, including the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.”

The declaration submitted for Sheridan by his lawyer states Sheridan believed Sands would have been responsible for communicating Snow’s 2011 order to deputies. Sands retired in 2013 and has written a book that is critical of the sheriff’s office.

American Civil Liberties Union attorneys who represent plaintiffs in the racial profiling case, however, argued that there is "ample evidence" on which the court could find defendants in civil contempt, and that "there appears already to be evidence supporting a finding of criminal contempt." They assert the sheriff's office purposefully violated Snow's 2011 preliminary injunction, as well as a May 2014 order to work with the court-appointed monitor to collect video evidence from deputies. 

The plaintiffs urged Snow to refer the case to a criminal prosecutor for criminal contempt proceedings.

They provided evidence that as late as September and October 2012 sheriff's deputies had detained immigrants who had no criminal charges. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents refused to coordinate with the sheriff's office, deputies turned over the immigrants to U.S. Border Patrol.

The sheriff’s civil defense team recommended that if Snow decides to find their client in civil contempt, fines would be the most appropriate punishment.

 “Defendants will attempt, in good faith, to locate the names of the victims of the traffic stops conducted in violation of the Court’s Order,” reads the memo by attorneys Michele Iafrate and Tom Liddy. “In addition, the court’s sanction may include the costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred by Plaintiffs’ counsel litigating any contempt proceedings.”

UPDATED 11:11 a.m.