The U.S. Department of Justice officials have opted to charge Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt for violating a federal court’s orders in a racial-profiling case.
Arpaio has not yet officially been charged. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton asked the federal government to write an order to show cause, by Wednesday, for her to sign. That will serve as a charging document for the case to go forward against Arpaio only.
The announcement came Tuesday at the case’s first criminal hearing in downtown Phoenix’s federal court.
DOJ attorney John Keller said the government will continue to investigate additional allegations of Arpaio and three aides for concealing evidence — and therefore obstruction of justice — but will not proceed with the prosecution at this time, because they believe the statute of limitations has run out.
Bolton is not sure, and asked for a pause on the statute-of-limitations clock for all sides to discuss that issue.
In August, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow referred Arpaio, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Capt. Steve Bailey and defense attorney Michele Iafrate to be charged with criminal contempt of court.
Arpaio’s charge stems from a December 2011 federal court order that barred his agency from enforcing federal immigration law. It is alleged that his deputies continued to do so, however, for at least 18 months thereafter.
The other defendants were not involved in this allegation, and therefore will not face immediate charges.
Largely because of Arpaio’s age, Bolton ruled that a sentencing cap of six months is appropriate on the contempt charge, virtually defining the crime as a misdemeanor.
A tentative date is set for Dec. 6. Arpaio’s attorney asked for a jury trial.
The other allegations will run on a separate track.
Arpaio was not present at the Tuesday hearing.