Notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been ignoring the results of a lawsuit that accused his department of racially profiling for half a decade—and it’s finally catching up to him.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton signed an order on Tuesday afternoon formally charging Arpaio with contempt of court for failing to reform his police department and continuing to conduct illegal racial profiling.
The contempt order comes as a result of a 2007 case, when Arpaio was sued for the arrest and detention of Latinx people on the suspicion that they were undocumented immigrants, without any other probable cause for a crime. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were all either legal residents or citizens.
Judge Murray Snow issued rulings in 2011 and 2012 for Arpaio and his department to cease racial profiling and institute training and reforms to make sure such behavior stops.
Arpaio has spent five years ignoring these orders. In May 2016, Snow found him in contempt of court and accused him of ignoring his orders, destroying documents, manipulating an investigation, and making false statements under oath to avoid complying with the rulings. He referred the contempt charge to a criminal court for prosecution.
“Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case and did not stop after they themselves became the subject of civil contempt,” Snow wrote in August.
If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Arpaio would face a maximum penalty of six months in jail. Under Arizona law, he would not have to resign. The trial is set for Dec. 6.
This is only the latest in a salvo of controversies that have stalked Arpaio through his long tenure as sheriff. He was first elected in 1993 and voters have continued to put him in office despite accusations of racial profiling, prisoner mistreatment, and an investigation of the president’s birth certificate paid for by taxpayers.
But that might not last for much longer. Even before the charges came down, a poll by Sherpa Public Affairs found Democrat Paul Penzone was leading Arpaio among likely voters by 10 points.
In a campaign ad released last week, Arpaio seemed to be banking on the contempt charges to lift his re-election chances.