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Ariz. Sheriff Who's Tough On Illegal Immigration Faces Contempt Hearing

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now to immigrants who are being targeted in this country. The sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., is Joe Arpaio. He's become famous for using aggressive tactics to stop people suspected of being in the country illegally. To many, his patrols look like racial profiling unfairly targeting Latinos. A federal judge ordered these patrols to stop. The sheriff admits that he and his chief deputy violated part of that order. Today, the sheriff will be back in court. From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Jude Joffe-Block reports.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: It's no secret Sheriff Joe Arpaio did not want this week's civil contempt hearing to happen. As part of an unsuccessful bid to reach a settlement, Arpaio and his chief deputy admitted to the allegations against them. They include ignoring a 2011 federal court order to stop detaining immigrants just on the suspicion they were here illegally.

TOM IRVINE: The confession that Arpaio made that he is indeed guilty of civil contempt of court is extraordinary. It's just extraordinary.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Tom Irvine is a Phoenix attorney who's had his share of clashes with the sheriff. He finds the acknowledgement extraordinary because Arpaio has spent the last decade building a national reputation for being tough on immigration and for being unapologetic about those policies. But in recent weeks, he struck a new tone. As part of their proposed settlement, Arpaio and his chief deputy offered a long list of punishments they'd agree to, including personally donating $100,000 to a Latino civil rights organization. No one from the sheriff's office would comment for this story, but Irvine has a theory about Arpaio's strategy.

IRVINE: Everybody could say, well, he's turned over a new leaf. But most people, including me, believe that he is trying to stop the evidence from being presented in public.

JOFFE-BLOCK: That evidence includes whether the sheriff deliberately violated the judge's orders - for example, when deputies were never told about the judge's order to stop immigration arrests. Depending on what comes out, the judge could refer the case to a federal prosecutor to pursue criminal contempt charges against the sheriff and others. Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton says that would be serious.

PAUL CHARLTON: The possibility of incarceration in a criminal contempt proceeding is very real. And I suspect that's why Joe Arpaio is working so diligently right now to accept responsibility and avoid having to face that risk.

JOFFE-BLOCK: For the civil penalties, it's likely the judge will order more oversight of the sheriff's office plus fines, including damages to the immigrants who were wrongfully detained. Charlton says the judge will be grappling with this key question.

CHARLTON: Who will pay the fine?

JOFFE-BLOCK: Many, including the judge, want to see Arpaio pay a portion out of his own pocket. Normally Maricopa County would pay legal settlements on the sheriff's behalf. It's already on the hook for tens of millions of dollars following the judge's ruling two years ago that the sheriff's office systematically racially profiled Latino motorists. Those costs include attorney's fees, a court-appointed monitor and new equipment to prevent profiling by Arpaio's department. Some of Arpaio's critics want to see a punishment that goes beyond fines. Latina activist Lydia Guzman was involved in that racial profiling suit against the sheriff.

LYDIA GUZMAN: To many folks in the Latino community, justice will be served when they see Arpaio hauled away in handcuffs. They want to see him suffer the same thing that their family members went through.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Meanwhile, Arpaio, who is 82, has pledged to run for a seventh term next year. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.