Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted on Monday of defying a court order to stop rounding up immigrants, and he may face jail time — another rebuke for a once-popular politician who was voted out of office last year.
In 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Mr. Arpaio built a national reputation for harsh conditions in his county jail, and for his campaign against undocumented immigrants; his deputies detained people solely based on a belief that they were in the country illegally, and then turn them over to immigration authorities for deportation.
In December 2011, a federal district judge hearing a racial profiling lawsuit ruled that the immigration detentions were illegal and ordered the sheriff to halt them — an order that was upheld by an appeals court and reinforced by another district court order in 2013. But Mr. Arpaio vowed, publicly and repeatedly, that the roundups would continue, and they did.
After federal prosecutors charged him with criminal contempt of court, he maintained that he had not willfully violated the court order, but that his underlings had done so. United States District Judge Susan R. Bolton dismissed that claim in a ruling on Monday in Phoenix..
“Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” she wrote in delivering the guilty verdict.
Mr. Arpaio, 85, could be jailed for up to six months on the conviction. Judge Bolton scheduled sentencing for Oct. 5.
Mr. Arpaio, who once called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” famously made jail inmates wear pink underwear, and served food that some prisoners called inedible. He regularly held undocumented immigrants past their court-ordered release dates to ensure that they would be picked up by immigration agents, and vowed to investigate President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
He was also accused several times of abusing his authority to investigate political opponents, and his legal troubles caused mounting bills for the county, Arizona’s largest.
Last year, frustration with his headline-grabbing tactics turned into a defeat at the polls.
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