Even the self-proclaimed "America's toughest sheriff" may not escape the long arm of the law.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could be held in contempt for deliberately rejecting a court order to halt the immigration patrols that became his trademark and earned him a national profile.
U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow, who placed an injunction on the harsh anti-immigrant policy in 2011, this week launched a four-day contempt-of-court hearing after video surfaced of top officials disparaging the court order.
Arpaio has previously admitted to defying the 2011 court orders in a long-standing civil rights case, which barred the sheriff's policy of singling out Latinos during routine traffic stops and detaining individuals for extended periods. In court filings, Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan acknowledged that they were aware of the injunction, but for 18 months, they failed to pass the message down to the department's deputies.
While testifying at the hearing Tuesday, Sgt. Brett Palmer blamed his boss for ignoring the court's demands and said although he was asked to draw up training materials for the department to comply with the orders, rank-and-file officers were unaware of the necessary changes. Instead, Palmer said the emphasis within the department was focused on public perception because "it's our duty to make the sheriff look good to the media and the public," according to the Associated Press.
During his tenure leading the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, Arpaio has been routinely embroiled in controversy. He became a champion and spokesperson for Arizona's harsh and sweeping anti-immigrant law SB 1070, which was later chipped away by the Supreme Court.
Three years later, Judge Snow ruled that Arpaio's department had systemically profiled Latino drivers and work places based on their race and suspected immigration status. Out of that long-standing civil rights case, Snow barred the department from detaining an individuals suspected of violating federal immigration laws.
However, evidence soon came to light that the sheriff's department was flouting Snow's injunction. Just months after the court order, video surfaced of a deputy training meeting where Sheridan called the injunction “ludicrous” and “absurd."
Arpaio and Sheridan have together offered to donate $100,000 to a civil rights organization to quietly settle the case. But if held in contempt, Arpaio could face fines and even a criminal case down the road.
The sheriff, 82, will be up for his seventh term next year.