Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Found Guilty
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been found guilty of criminal contempt. This stems from a 2011 racial profiling case. The once-powerful lawman is known for his hard-line approach to immigration enforcement. Now he could spend time in jail himself. Joining us from Phoenix is reporter Jimmy Jenkins of member station KJZZ. And, Jimmy, to start, precisely what was Arpaio on trial for?
JIMMY JENKINS, BYLINE: This was really a case about immigration enforcement taking place at the local level. There was a time when the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was given the authority from the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws. That authority was later revoked. In 2011, a federal judge told Arpaio he had to stop arresting and holding people without state charges.
CORNISH: And I don't recall that's how it played out. What happened?
JENKINS: No. Instead of stopping the program, Sheriff Arpaio actually expanded his immigration patrols. Deputies testified he told them to take people to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and when ICE refused he had them take undocumented people to Border Patrol. Last year the sheriff was found to be in civil contempt on that charge. What this trial focused on was the criminal contempt charge. And now Arpaio's been found guilty of that as well, that he knowingly violated the judge's order to stop the arrests.
CORNISH: Now, as a result of his policies, the county had been in the spotlight for years, right? What's the relationship like now between local law enforcement and the federal government?
JENKINS: Well, the Maricopa County attorney recently instructed the new sheriff that he's not to hold people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But this is potentially in conflict with a new directive from the U.S. Department of Justice that says local authorities should hold people for 48 hours and inform ICE of that hold.
CORNISH: In her decision today, federal Judge Susan Bolton found Arpaio guilty. She said the sheriff was in flagrant violation of the order. Is there actually a chance, though, for jail time for this former sheriff?
JENKINS: Well, this is a bench trial. There was no jury. So going into it the judge said Arpaio was looking at six months maximum in jail. But, you know, the sheriff is 85 years old. It's unclear whether he'll serve time in jail. We'll find out at his sentencing October 5.
CORNISH: This must be a pretty massive public fall for this figure, right? I mean, he really became a lightning rod and a national figure for many supporters as well.
JENKINS: It really is. Joe Arpaio was a six-term sheriff. That's 24 years in office. He was known around the U.S. and around the world for his especially tough treatment of immigrants, especially people in the country without proper documentation. And he was known for setting up Tent City Jail, you know, in the Arizona heat for people charged with DUIs.
His critics are saying years of that kind of law enforcement are finally catching up with him. Last year he had the civil contempt conviction and lost his re-election bid as sheriff of Maricopa County, and now this year the criminal contempt conviction. Here in Arizona, his opponents say his legacy is mainly that of the millions of dollars and expenses he's caused his county in federal litigation.
CORNISH: That is a lot of money that's falling on residents, right? What's the response there in Maricopa County?
JENKINS: For immigrants' rights groups, they say the two verdicts and his election loss - they see it as a vindication. They believe he never cared about the rights of immigrants. And they're glad that the federal court stepped in and brought him to justice. But immigration hard-liners continue to approve of Arpaio's tough stance. They admire that he never changed his approach. But in the end, Audie, that's what may mean jail time for him.
CORNISH: Jimmy Jenkins from member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Thank you for your reporting.
JENKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.