Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was charged with criminal contempt of court on Tuesday for violating a court order stemming from a lengthy class action lawsuit filed against the sheriff in 2007.
The 2007 racial discrimination suit claimed that Arpaio’s deputies had targeted Latinos for immigration sweeps and unlawful traffic stops.
The charge came as no surprise. Prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice vowed to prosecute Arpaio on October 11, but it became official yesterday when U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton signed the misdemeanor count.
Arpaio is up for re-election, seeking his seventh term as sheriff of Maricopa County, an area that is nearly 30 percent Latino. Allegations of racism and xenophobia have trailed Arpaio for years. The New York Times‘ editorial board recently published “The Rap Sheet Against Joe Arpaio,” asserting that the sheriff’s criminal indictment is “a lot simpler” than his “moral and political indictment.”
Documents released in the recent court hearing revealed that the county sheriff’s office may have paid for some of an investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate. Arpaio has asserted the investigation “didn’t cost taxpayers any money,” but local news outlet CBS 5 obtained internal documents from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office indicating that the office allegedly spent thousands on the investigation.
The sheriff told local media earlier this month that the criminal contempt charge was “strictly a political attack” on his campaign. Polls dating back to August have showed Arpaio trailing his challenger Paul Penzone, a retired Phoenix police sergeant who ran against the sheriff in 2012.
This past weekend, community members, advocates, and volunteers with Bazta Arpaio, a coalition dedicated to unseating Arpaio, conducted a large-scale canvassing effort in Maricopa County to “mobilize Anti-Arpaio voters and rally against criminalization,” according to a statement about the event.
In a phone interview before the canvassing event, Alejandra Gomez, an organizer with Bazta Arpaio, told Rewire that Arpaio has “targeted, abused, and terrorized” immigrant communities and that many in Maricopa County are ready for change.
Arpaio’s trial will begin December 6. The sheriff’s attorney has said that he will plead not guilty. If convicted, Arpaio could spend six months in jail, but the Los Angeles Times reports that “a misdemeanor conviction would not bar Arpaio from serving as sheriff.”