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Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Facing More Legal Troubles

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Arpaio built a national reputation on his hard-line approach to law enforcement, particularly when it comes to illegal immigration. But now the outspoken Arizona sheriff is facing more legal troubles for that stance. From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Jude Joffe-Block reports a federal judge could find him in contempt of court for violating orders.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: About seven years ago, a group of Latinos in Maricopa County - most of them citizens - sued Sheriff Arpaio. They argued his use of traffic stops to crack down on immigrants here illegally unfairly targeted all Latino motorists. In 2013, the group won in court.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A federal judge has ruled that Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio's office systematically racially profiles Latinos in its immigration patrols.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The judge ordered major reforms at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, including new training, anti-profiling protocols and an independent monitor to oversee the sheriff's compliance. But recent evidence suggests the sheriff's office defied a number of court orders. A civil hearing has now been set in April to find out if Arpaio and four officers should be found in contempt of court.

DAVID HARRIS: This is very unusual.

JOFFE-BLOCK: David Harris teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is watching this case.

HARRIS: For a public official to defy a court's orders, often enough that a judge gets to the point of ordering contempt proceedings - this almost never happens.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Arpaio was a leading force in Arizona's strict immigration policies. He did sweeps that arrested immigrants without legal status and resisted federal pressure to stop. But a number of federal court rulings, including the one in this racial profiling case, determined immigration enforcement is strictly the federal government's job. That frustrates Jack MacIntyre, one of Arpaio's deputy chiefs.

JACK MACINTYRE: The federal government is not enforcing immigration law and they are refusing to allow anyone else to do it.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The upcoming hearing concerns whether sheriff personnel should be held in contempt for disobeying the court. The judge will examine how the Sheriff's Office failed to hand over thousands of traffic stop videos requested by the plaintiffs before the trial and why the Sheriff's Office seemingly ignored a 2011 court order to stop detaining immigrants who hadn't violated any state laws. Cecilia Wang is with the American Civil Liberties Union and an attorney in the suit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

CECILIA WANG: MCSO not only did not comply with that order, but did not even communicate the order to the rank and file, to all the deputies in the agency.

JOFFE-BLOCK: So for months, some deputies kept making the very immigration arrests the judge ruled were unlawful.

WANG: It was blatantly a disregard for federal court orders and for the U.S. Constitution.

TOM LIDDY: There have been mistakes that have been made.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Tom Liddy is one of the sheriff's attorneys. He says many of the concerns came to light because Arpaio and his staff voluntarily disclosed them to the judge. He says the sheriff is working hard to comply with the court's orders and shouldn't be held in contempt.

LIDDY: This is all evidence of good faith, effort to work together to ensure that the rights of Hispanics in Maricopa County are fully respected and protected.

JOFFE-BLOCK: If Arpaio and others are found in contempt, they'd likely face fines. The judge has also threatened to refer the case for criminal contempt charges, as well. In the meantime, the sheriff's lawyers requested a meeting to discuss a settlement. It's set for later this month. For NPR News I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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