The man who became famous for questioning Barack Obama's citizenship might be headed to jail for illegally targeting immigrants. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt on Monday, with a district court judge ruling that America's self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff" had willfully ignored a court order intended to stem unconstitutional abuses in his office.
Arpaio, who will appeal the ruling, released a statement on Monday. "Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul," it reads, "and he will continue his fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence, and to protect the public,"
In 2013, Arpaio was found guilty of racially profiling Hispanics by targeting them during raids and traffic stops. A judge ordered him and his office to end those and other practices, which included using "race or Latino ancestry" as justification for pulling over drivers and detaining Hispanic residents without a "reasonable suspicion" that they were in the country illegally. However, District Court Judge Susan Bolton ruled on Monday that Arpaio had ignored these orders and continued to profile Hispanic communities during his time as sheriff.
"Judge Snow issued a clear and definite ruling enjoining [Arpaio] from detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed," Bolton wrote, referring to the previous judge's order. "Defendant willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates' compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed."
Bolton also criticized Arpaio for declaring publicly that he intended to ignore the court order.
"Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise," Bolton wrote in her ruling. She cited an interview Arpaio gave to Fox News Latino in 2012, after a preliminary version of Snow's order had been issued, in which the then-sheriff said that "I won’t back down and I will continue to do what I’ve been doing."
Arpaio, who has been praised effusively by Donald Trump and spoke at his nominating convention, rose to prominence both because of his office's treatment of Hispanics and his personal skepticism of Obama's American citizenship. When Obama released his long form birth certificate in 2011, Arpaio responded by forming a group, which he dubbed the "Cold Case Posse," to investigate the veracity of the president's birth certificate. However, Arpaio was defeated for reelection in 2016, and his successor Paul Penzone announced that he would be disbanding the posse within his first 100 days.