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Sheriff Arpaio Admits Violating Court Orders, Agrees To Contempt Finding

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his chief deputy admitted to a judge they can be found in contempt of court for repeatedly violating court orders in an ongoing racial profiling lawsuit. The dramatic revelation came in court papers filed late Tuesday.

The sheriff is hoping United States District Court Judge Murray Snow will now cancel a four-day evidentiary hearing set for April 21-24 where officers would have to testify.

The case stems from a 2007 class action racial profiling lawsuit filed by a group of Latino drivers against the sheriff’s office. In 2013, Snow ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office systematically violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers. Snow ordered sweeping changes at the agency, and put in place an independent monitor to ensure the sheriff’s compliance. 

But in recent months, new evidence revealed several instances where the sheriff’s office had seemingly failed to follow Snow’s orders. That prompted Snow to set the April civil evidentiary hearing to find out if Arpaio and four others should be held in contempt of court. The plaintiffs in the case had already begun scheduling depositions with various MCSO officers and Tim Casey, Arpaio’s previous attorney.

In Tuesday’s filing, Arpaio and Chief Deputy Gerald Sheridan admitted they violated the Snow’s orders on three instances.

That includes ignoring a 2011 court order instructing MCSO to stop detaining immigrants solely on the suspicion of being in the country without legal status. Arpaio and Sheridan acknowledged they failed to implement the order.

“There is nothing Defendants can do to change what has already been done,” reads the motion. “But through the entry of an order finding them in civil contempt and by implementing remedies discussed herein, Defendants can express sincere remorse to the Court and to Plaintiffs, begin to make amends to those who have been injured and take affirmative steps to ensure nothing like this occurs in the future.”

The penalty for a finding of civil contempt of court is usually fines or payments towards victims, which in this case would be paid by Maricopa County.

But Arpaio and Sheridan indicate in court filings that they are willing to personally pay out of their own pockets — to the tune of $100,000 to an organization approved by the court that works for Latino civil rights.

They also pledge they will ask the county to create a $350,000 fund to compensate those who were wrongfully detained by the sheriff’s office, with the option of increasing the fund if necessary. They are also offering to drop their partial appeal of Snow's ruling to a fedearl appeals court.

When MCSO has come under fire in the past, it has not typically been Arpaio who has taken the fall. But this time the sheriff is offering to appear in a public forum to explain how he violated the court orders. 

The motion asks Snow to cancel the April contempt hearing in light of Arpaio and Sheridan’s admissions they violated court orders.

“Under these circumstances, a 4-day evidentiary hearing, which would cost the county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and which would consume significant time of the Court, is unnecessary,” the motion reads.

It remains unclear what this proposal will mean for MCSO Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre, retired Executive Chief Brian Sands and Lieutenant Joseph Sousa, who were also named defendants in the contempt of court case.

In recent months Snow has been clear about his intent to refer the case to a federal prosecutor for criminal contempt of court proceedings if he does not feel the civil penalties are adequate. The defendants say in their motion they are attempting to propose sufficient remedies so the judge will not need to pursue criminal charges.

At a hearing last month, lawyers for the sheriff’s office indicated they wished to reach a settlement with plaintiffs rather than face the April hearing. Snow said he would only accept a settlement agreement that addressed both civil and criminal contempt of court. But a new obstacle for settling the potential criminal charges emerged last week when the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to be involved in settlement discussions.

Updated 3/18/2015 at 9:40 a.m.

Jude Joffe-Block Senior Field Correspondent, Fronteras Desk - Phoenix KJZZ Senior Field Correspondent Jude Joffe-Block got hooked on radio while working as an assitant to a radio reporter in Mexico, and has been happiest wearing headphones and pointing microphones ever since. Joffe-Block began serving KJZZ in October 2010 as a Fronteras: Changing America Senior Field Correspondent based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. She joined the Phoenix newsroom in July 2012. Before joining the Fronteras Desk, she contributed stories on immigration and criminal justice to KALW in San Francisco and multimedia content in both Spanish and English to The Associated Press in Mexico. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Yale University, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico.