PHOENIX – A federal judge wants another judge to decide whether metro Phoenix’s sheriff and his top aide should be held in criminal contempt-of-court for ignoring court orders in a racial profiling case.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said in a ruling Friday that the judge in question will decide whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio should be held in criminal contempt for prolonging his immigration patrols months after Snow had ordered them stopped.
The judge said there was also probable cause to believe Arpaio intentionally failed to turn over records that he had promised, under oath, to give to a court official.
The records were from a secret investigation that Arpaio’s foes say focused on Snow in an attempt to discredit him. The sheriff has vigorously insisted that he didn’t investigate Snow and instead said the probe was focused on widespread identity theft.
The judge also found there was probable cause to believe aide Jerry Sheridan and others violated orders in concealing nearly 1,500 IDs in an internal investigation into whether officers pocketed items from people during traffic stops.
The order moves the six-term sheriff’s contempt case from civil court to criminal court. The case would be prosecuted either by the U.S. Attorney’s Office or an attorney appointed by the court.
Snow will continue to preside over the profiling case as he presses the sheriff’s office to make policy changes to prevent future racial profiling.
A call to the sheriff’s office seeking comment on Snow’s ruling wasn’t immediately returned Friday evening.
But in a court filing last month, Arpaio attorney Mel McDonald said the sheriff regrets the mistakes that led to the civil contempt violations, has made significant strides in complying with court-ordered changes imposed on his office and cited the sheriff’s lengthy law enforcement record.
The judge also set up a county-funded system for compensating Latinos who were detained in violation of an order to stop the immigration patrols. But Snow denied a request from Arpaio’s foes to require the sheriff to pull $300,000 out of his own pocket to help fund the system.
The county will pay $500 for the first hour of a person’s illegal detention and $35 for each additional 20-minute increment. Snow imposed a $10,000 cap on such compensation but said the victims can also seek money for other injuries resulting from the illegal detentions, such as lost wages and emotional distress.
Three months ago, Snow concluded that Arpaio and Sheridan made several intentional misstatements of facts last year during their contempt hearings and had deliberately misstated facts when denying that the agency had conducted an investigation of the judge. On Friday, he said the decision to prosecute Arpaio and Sheridan for those intentional misstatements would be up to the U.S. Justice Department.
“A criminal prosecution of Sheriff Arpaio is the right next step for justice to be done,” said Cecillia Wang, one of the lawyers pressing the profiling case against the sheriff. “When a federal court finds that a law enforcement official has lied to the court in an effort to cover up misconduct, and willfully flouted court orders, that official must be held to account.”
In his latest ruling, Snow also wants another judge to determine whether Sheridan, sheriff’s Capt. Steve Bailey and former Arpaio attorney Michele Iafrate should be held in criminal contempt over their failure to disclose the discovery of nearly 1,500 IDs that were in the possession of one officer.
Calls to lawyers for Sheridan, Bailey and Iafrate weren’t immediately returned Friday night.
In May, the judge found Arpaio, Sheridan and two other sheriff’s employees in civil contempt of court for violating three orders within the nearly 9-year-old profiling case.
Arpaio and Sheridan were previously found to have made several intentional misstatements of facts last year during their contempt hearings.
Three years ago, the sheriff’s office was found to have racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and immigration patrols. The judge imposed a series of changes aimed at guarding against profiling, but has complained that Arpaio has been slow to make the changes.
The 84-year-old Arpaio, who is seeking a seventh term this year, built his political reputation on pushing the bounds of local immigration enforcement, making inmates wear pink underwear and jailing them in tents during Phoenix’s triple-digit summer heat.
He voluntarily gave up his last major foothold in immigration enforcement in January 2015 after the courts and federal government gradually reined in his powers.