Sheriff Joe Arpaio in court over profiling case in Arizona
PHOENIX (AP) A hearing began Tuesday to decide whether an Arizona sheriff should be held in contempt of court for violating a judge's orders in a racial profiling lawsuit that stemmed from his aggressive immigration patrols in Hispanic neighborhoods in metro Phoenix.
The four-day civil proceedings got underway in a packed courtroom that included immigrant rights activists and critics who have tangled with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the past.
The first day provided a look into the inner-workings of Arpaio's office, including testimony from a supervisor who developed training materials to address a 2011 injunction by a judge that barred the agency from doing immigration patrols.
The training never took place, and the office continued to do immigration enforcement for another 18 months.
Asked why the training never happened, Sgt. Brett Palmer responded, "It was contrary to the goals and objectives of the sheriff."
He added that the prevailing rule across the sheriff's office was "to make the sheriff look good to the media and the public."
Palmer said Arpaio also wanted to put up roadblocks to catch immigrants in the country illegally and asked Palmer for a legal opinion on the matter. He said it was a bad idea, and the roadblocks never occurred.
Arpaio, whose get-tough jail policies and immigration patrols have made him a national political figure, sat at a defense table, listening attentively for most of the hearing. He is on the witness list but did not testify.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide whether Arpaio and four aides should be held in contempt. Rank-and-file officers weren't told about the injunction, leaving them to violate the order for about 18 months.
The hearing marks the boldest attempt yet to hold Arpaio personally responsible for his actions, and it could lead to fines and other sanctions against his office. Snow also has said he intends to launch a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to jail time.
The normally defiant Arpaio has acknowledged disobeying the judge's order that found his deputies racially profiled Latinos. He also has accepted responsibility for his agency's failure to turn over traffic-stop videos in the profiling case and bungling a plan to gather such recordings from deputies once some videos were discovered.
The sheriff's lawyer, Michele Iafrate, emphasized that the violations were not willful or intentional. "It's a culture we are attempting to fix," she said.
Arpaio has proposed offering a public apology and making a $100,000 donation to a civil rights organization from his own pocket to call off the hearing, but the judge rejected the request because it didn't resolve the contempt case.
It's unclear whether Arpaio's legal troubles are signaling an end to his 22-year political career. His political strength has been gradually declining over the past four election cycles, but his base of devoted supporters and impressive fundraising help him pull out wins.
"This is a man who has flouted the law so notoriously over 20 years, and yet he appears to be unscathed, although we, taxpayers, have paid a price for it," said Michael Manning, an attorney who has won more than $20 million in damages in lawsuits over deaths at Arpaio's jails. Manning isn't involved in the contempt case.
State Sen. John Kavanagh, a friend and supporter of Arpaio, questioned whether the contempt hearings would make Arpaio politically vulnerable.
"I am disappointed," Kavanagh said, "that one of the few law enforcement officials who went after illegal immigrants is being penalized for it."