It's now official: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been formally charged with criminal contempt of court, with prosecutors saying he disobeyed a judge's order in a racial profiling case. The sheriff for much of the Phoenix metro area could face up to six months behind bars if convicted.
The misdemeanor charge against Arpaio, 84, was formally lodged Tuesday, after U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton signed an order to show cause.
"The charging document said the sheriff willfully disobeyed a court order by continuing to make immigration arrests after he was told to stop," member station KJZZ reports from Phoenix.
Bolton's order calls for a December trial — but in response, Arpaio's legal team filed a motion for a two-month extension of deadlines for a review of policies and procedures at the sheriff's department, whose employees number more than 4,000 people. Neither the plaintiffs nor the U.S. Justice Department, which has joined their case, moved to oppose the extension.
The case has a convoluted history, dating back to an initial civil rights filing in late 2007 that became a class-action suit.
As the Two-Way reported when news broke that federal contempt charges were pending:
"In December 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction ordering Arpaio and his deputies to stop targeting Latino drivers. Prosecutors allege that Arpaio's deputies defied the injunction for at least 18 months. In May 2013, Snow ruled that Arpaio's office had engaged in racial profiling.
"The case has taken some bizarre twists, such as in April when Arpaio admitted that his lawyers had hired a private detective to investigate Snow's wife."
When Snow referred the case to federal prosecutors at the end of the summer, the action prompted new calls for the sheriff to be arrested. One demonstrator who had marched that day told Arizona PBS, "I was happy that they were finally going to take this into consideration and actually press charges on this man — who's been harming many families, not just myself, but many families have been harmed by him, emotionally and mentally."
The criminal charge comes as Arpaio faces a re-election vote next month. After he won a primary race in August, Arpaio told reporters, "The more they go after me, the more I'm going to keep fighting for the people here."
The sheriff added that his campaign had raised some $11.3 million.
"So, there's a lot of people ... that give me money. And it's not because I'm tall dark and handsome."
As NPR's Richard Gonzales wrote for the Two-Way earlier this month (citing an AP story), "Arpaio's legal problems have cost Maricopa County taxpayers close to $50 million and the price tag could climb to more than $70 million."