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Anti-Immigrant Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Convicted of Criminal Contempt of Court

Joe Arpaio
Joe Arpaio

The longtime sheriff of Maricopa County had persisted in ordering hunts for undocumented immigrants after a federal judge ordered him not to.

Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a strong ally of Donald Trump, has been found guilty of criminal contempt of court for defying an order that he stop his department's infamous roundups of people he suspected to be undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio was sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the state's most populous county, from 1993 until 2016. He was known for sending his deputies to various neighborhoods -- usually impoverished ones with a large Latino population -- to detain people for minor violations, with the goal of then checking their immigration status.

The department was able to conduct these operations for years under a federal program that authorized some local police and sheriff's departments to enforce immigration law, but authorization was revoked in 2009. But Arpaio continued the "sweeps" of suspected undocumented immigrants, even though the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011 found him guilty of racial profiling, and U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in 2012 ordered him to stop the sweeps.

Arpaio later faced a civil trial for ignoring several orders, and he was found guilty of civil contempt of court last year. Then the federal government charged him with criminal contempt of court, charges on which he was tried this summer and resulted in Monday's guilty verdict by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, The Arizona Republic reports.

"The verdict is a rejection of Arpaio's defense: That the order was unclear and that, although mistakes had been made, the violations were unintended," the Republic notes. "Willful intent is required to prove criminal, rather than civil contempt."

"Testimony shows that Defendant knew of the order and what the order meant in regards to the [Maricopa County Sheriff's Office] policy of detaining persons who did not have state charges for turnover to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] for civil immigration violations," Bolton wrote. "Despite this knowledge, Defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue 'what he had always been doing.'"

Arpaio could be sentenced to up to six months in jail, but legal experts doubt he will serve time, The Atlantic reports. Sentencing could come as early as October.

"The criminal conviction is the last major blow to the 85-year-old's record, one that spans six terms in elected office," The Atlantic notes. Arpaio was an early and strong supporter of Donald Trump and gave a speech on his behalf at last year's Republican National Convention.

"Arpaio lost reelection for the first time last November, which from the outside looking in, may have seemed a bizarre rejection of his hardline immigration policies at a time when many of those same policies were favored by then-candidate Donald Trump," The Atlantic continues. But, the publication explains, the defeat "came at a time when Maricopa County had turned away from the more controversial politicians who had made it the leader in anti-immigration policy."

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