That giant thud you heard this afternoon? No, it wasn’t a rush hour pileup.
That was the sound of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s political career, smashing to smithereens as it collided full on with U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow.
Generally speaking, it’s difficult to make the case for why you should continue as the county’s top law enforcement official when you soon may be known as Inmate No. 2944814.
Just 11 days before the Republican primary, Snow has recommended that Arpaio, several of his deputies and his attorney be charged with criminal contempt of court.
“Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheradan have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case and did not stop after they themselves became the subject of criminal contempt.” Snow wrote.
Snow cites a litany of Arpaio, et al’s “intentional and continuing non-compliance,” including ignoring a federal judge’s order, destroying documents, manipulating an investigation, lying in court and a continuing refusal to comply with required reforms.
And oh yeah, a complete lack of any “personal consequence” for the sheriff.
A federal judge on Friday referred Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and three of his aides to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, requesting that they be prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.
The landmark decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow found that Arpaio intentionally violated various orders rooted in an 8-year-old racial-profiling case.
The judge's order also refers Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Arpaio's former defense attorney Michele Iafrate, and Capt. Steve Bailey for prosecutors to consider criminal contempt charges against them as well.
The sheriff and Sheridan already have been held in civil contempt of court. Potential penalties are steeper in a criminal case, and only criminal contempt could result in incarceration.
In May, Snow found Arpaio, Sheridan, Lt. Joe Sousa and former aide Brian Sands in civil contempt of court for violating three of the orders within the class-action racial-profiling case. Punishments for the civil-contempt finding already are being meted out, including reforms over the Sheriff's Office’s internal-affairs department and setting up the compensation fund for victims of illegal detention.
"Criminal contempt serves to vindicate the Court's authority by punishing the intentional disregard for that authority," Snow wrote in his Friday order.
Snow’s decision, announced in a federal court filing, answers the key question that loomed over more than a year of contempt proceedings: Was the sheriff's disregard of orders a criminal or civil contempt-of-court violation?
Friday night, civil-rights advocates, many who have attended courtroom hearings or protested outside of them for years, celebrated what they saw as a step toward what they have demanded for years: to hold Arpaio and his aides criminally responsible for his office’s racial profiling of Latinos.