Controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been officially charged with criminal contempt of court and his trial is set to begin on December 6 in Phoenix, Arizona.
According to AZCentral, criminal-contempt charges have loomed over Arpaio since 2015 for violating a federal judge’s order to stop enforcing civil immigration laws.
The threat of criminal prosecution became increasingly likely after a prolonged series of hearings last year. A federal judge’s finding of civil contempt came in May 2016, followed by his referral for criminal prosecution in August, followed by the Department of Justice’s announcement on Oct. 11 that its attorneys would, in fact, prosecute the six-term lawman.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who signed the agreement Tuesday, previously agreed that a maximum penalty of six months in jail would be appropriate for the 84-year-old sheriff if he is convicted.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) October 26, 2016
The charges come from a 9-year-old racial-profiling case against Arpaio’s office alleging that his signature immigration patrols violated the constitutional rights of Maricopa County’s Latino community.
In December 2011, months before the trial was to begin, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction over the Sheriff’s Office. The order banned deputies from detaining anyone solely on suspicion they were undocumented immigrants, and without cause to believe a crime had been committed.
In May 2013, Snow officially determined the office had racially profiled Latinos. The following months would introduce multi-million-dollar reforms to the Sheriff’s Office, including anti-bias training, recording devices for deputies, and a court-appointed monitor to ensure the agency followed the letter of the law.
But Arpaio’s officers continued to enforce the practice even after the judge’s preliminary order. Arpaio’s attorney didn’t deny the violations were happening but instead claimed they were unintentional.
This summer, Snow had recommended three separate criminal charges for Arpaio, but DOJ prosecutors have only chosen to pursue one. Arpaio may also face a charge of obstruction of justice.