By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three of his top officials were found to be in civil contempt on Friday after a federal judge ruled that he violated court orders stemming from a 2007 racial profiling case.
U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow found the sheriff and the three others persistently disregarded the court’s orders and showed an intent to “violate and manipulate the laws and policies regulating their conduct.”
“In short, the Court finds that the Defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the Plaintiff class and the protection of its rights,” Snow wrote.
The closely watched case centers on allegations that under Arpaio, who has courted controversy in the past with anti-illegal-immigration tactics, the sheriff's office failed to comply with a judge's orders meant to curb racial profiling of Latino drivers.
Arpaio, 84, and his three top aides were found in civil contempt by Snow after a series of hearings into their conduct.
The sheriff was cited for three counts of contempt in the court’s order. Chief Deputy Gerald Sheridan was found to have committed two counts of contempt and retired Executive Chief Brian Sands and Lieutenant Joseph Sousa were cited for one count each.
Arpaio and Sheridan have admitted to violating court orders but maintained that it was unintentional.
The lawman, who styles himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” and his office face a range of potential sanctions including fines, restitution for those harmed by the actions and tighter oversight of daily operations.
He also could face criminal charges stemming from the conduct. It was not clear on Friday whether the judge would seek a criminal referral.
An attorney for Arpaio, John Masterson, said the judge’s ruling was being reviewed and that he expects to file a response by May 27. He said the civil contempt finding was expected since Arpaio and Sheridan already admitted to it last year.
An attorney for the plaintiffs hailed the long-awaited ruling.
"His recalcitrance ends here," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, in a statement. "Strong remedies are needed to protect the community’s rights, starting with internal investigations that root out misconduct. Willing or not, the sheriff will be made to comply with the law."
Snow set a May 31 hearing in federal court in Phoenix to discuss the appropriate relief to be granted in the case.
(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish)