The U.S. Department of Justice officials have opted to pursue a criminal contempt charge against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio forviolating a federal court’s orders in a racial-profiling case.
The move has few precedents in U.S. history, as prosecutors endorsed a federal judge's findings that the lawman intentionally violated the judge's orders.
Arpaio has not yet officially been charged. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton asked the federal government to write an order to show cause, by Wednesday, for her to sign. That will serve as a charging document for the case to go forward against Arpaio only.
The announcement came Tuesday at the case’s first criminal hearing in downtown Phoenix’s federal court.
DOJ attorney John Keller said the government will continue to investigate additional allegations against Arpaio, two aides and a defense attorney for concealing evidence — and therefore obstruction of justice — but will not proceed with a criminal case at this time.
Keller said the statute of limitations may have run out for other criminal contempt allegations against Arpaio and the three others.
Bolton is not sure, and asked for a pause on the statute-of-limitations clock for all sides to discuss that issue.
In August, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow referred Arpaio, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Capt. Steve Bailey and defense attorney Michele Iafrate to be charged with criminal contempt of court.
Arpaio’s charge stems from a December 2011 federal court order that barred his agency from enforcing federal immigration law. It is alleged that his deputies continued to do so, however, for at least 18 months thereafter.