Sheriff Joe Arpaio has finally done it. He’s provoked a federal judge into initiating a contempt of court proceeding against him, which will begin in April.
Recap: last year, federal judge Murray Snow found Arpaio and his department guilty of racially profiling Latinos, and ordered mandatory reforms to prevent similar discriminatory behavior in the future. Arpaio and his office repeatedly flouted the reforms, deriding the judge’s orders and presenting (in the judge’s words) “a paper appearance of compliance” while fostering “an attitude of contempt and subversion”. Snow has grown less and less patient with Arpaio, who continued to refuse to shape up. According to the Arizona Republic, the final straws for Judge Snow were:
— Arpaio’s office’s failure to disclose information prior to trial, including audio and video recordings and other evidence, that may have broadened the scope of the court’s actions;
— Arpaio’s public statements that he would continue to arrest illegal immigrants and turn them over to federal immigration authorities;
— Commanders’ failure to relay the court’s directives to rank-and-file deputies.
In recent weeks, Arpaio’s attorneys tried to convince Snow not to take the monumental step of calling for a contempt of court proceeding, apologizing for general missteps and claiming that any offenses were unintentional. As a statement from Arpaio’s attorneys read:
Sheriff Arpaio readily concedes that mistakes have been made in the communication and, in some instances, implementation of Court Orders. He genuinely regrets those mistakes, and is committed to working with the Court Monitor to carry out existing directives and minimize further mistakes.
But that turned out to be too little, too late. More than ever now, Arpaio’s belief of himself to be above the law could truly come back to haunt him. His trial will take place over four days in April, when a jury will have to find that the sheriff “willfully disobeyed” the judge’s orders. If found guilty, Arpaio could be sent to federal prison.