Former “toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio is set to begin his criminal contempt trial in federal court Monday. Heading into the week-long event, here are five things you should know as we’re watching it unfold.
1. Arpaio is being charged with criminal contempt — not the abuse of prisoners or for his immigration policies.
Federal prosecutors charged then Sheriff Arpaio alleging he violated a US District Court Judge Murray Snow’s order in a racial profiling case. At the time, the judge directed him to stop arresting suspected “unauthorized” immigrants saying the local sheriff’s department didn’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Arpaio allegedly ignored the judge and continued to arrest people for 18 months.
Snow concluded that Arpaio purposely ignored his orders to keep up his hard immigration stance going into his 2012 election. Arpaio went on to win that race but lost in 2016 after spending most of his election advising Donald Trump on immigration policies. He blamed former President Barack Obama for the loss, claiming Obama ordered the Justice Department to announce the charges shortly before Election Day.
2. Arpaio has already admitted he’s guilty.
After the charges, Arpaio’s legal team begged for more time and requested multiple delays to buy even more time. As part of one of the motions, Arpaio’s counsel claimed that the Sheriff was “coerced” into a confession that he committed civil contempt because he thought that it would prevent him from being charged criminally.
“Defendants acknowledge and appreciate that they have violated the Court’s orders and that there are consequences for these violations,” the statement from Arpaio’s attorneys read.
The confession didn’t stop federal prosecutors from charging him with criminal contempt.
3. Arpaio had a hard time keeping an attorney.
Working for Arpaio can’t be easy. It’s unclear if his either Arpaio or his legal team was involved in his confession but not long after, Arpaio’s lawyer quit for ethical reasons.
Mere weeks before his trial, Mel McDonald filed a brief with the court saying that under “good cause” and under ethical rules, his resignation from the case is “mandatory.”
4. Arpaio continues to cost taxpayers a fortune.
While working for him was probably a challenge, it seemed to be a lucrative one. The contempt violation concluded with a judge being forced to create a taxpayer-funded account that compensates Latinos who have been illegally detained by the Maricopa Sheriff’s Department while he was violating the order for 18 months. As of April, $1 million was set aside for the account.
For his legal problems alone, Arpaio was expected to spend as much as $72 million in legal fees all paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Arpaio lost in November in part, due to conservative Trump voters who were sick of the costs the notorious sheriff was racking up. According to a December report from Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, in precincts that leaned Democratically Arpaio earned about the same percentage of votes that Donald Trump did. But in heavy GOP areas, Trump voters were unwilling to also support his friend. Arpaio earned 49.3 percent where Trump scored 54.3 percent of the vote.
The thinking is that conservatives want to lower taxes and less money being spent by the government in general. Arpaio’s legal problems violate that principle.
5. Arpaio could end up in jail for six months unless Trump pardons him.
Arpaio was already found in civil contempt but the penalty for criminal contempt, if Arpaio is found guilty, is six months in jail. It isn’t known which jail it would be and if he would encounter some of the people he put behind bars. Many Latino gangs are operating in prisons, including the MS-13, the Mexican Mafia and La Nuestra. They might not take kindly to Arpaio. That could put Arpaio in a position where he might have to be put in solitary confinement for his own protection.
However, Arpaio became friends with Trump over the years as the two attacked former President Barack Obama, claiming his birth certificate was a forgery, Obama was born in Kenya and thus, was an illegitimate president. Trump was ultimately forced to acknowledge that Obama was born in the U.S. Trump hasn’t weighed in on the case, much less said whether he would pardon Arpaio to prevent him from serving jail time.