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Early voting in Arizona began on Wednesday morning, but the state's most famous sheriff has more on his plate this week than a re-election campaign: the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) announced plans on Tuesday to move forward with criminal contempt charges against him.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a vocal supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, has been fighting illegal immigration in Maricopa County, Arizona, for years. His “tent city” prison has sparked controversy, as have his routine “immigration patrols” — but it's the patrolling that has feds involved.
As reported at BuzzFeed:
“Federal prosecutors on Tuesday said they plan on charging Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt for violating a court order to stop detaining people suspected of being in the country illegally.”
But Arpaio says that the DOJ's sudden interest in his case is politically motivated — and politically timed. He released a full statement in response to the charges:
His statement reads, in part:
"First and foremost, it is clear that the corrupt Obama Justice Department is trying to influence my reelection as Sheriff of Maricopa County. It is no coincidence that this announcement comes 28 days before the election and the day before early voting starts. It is a blatant abuse of power and the people of Maricopa County should be as outraged as I am.
As your elected Sheriff, my job is to enforce the law. Because enforcing illegal immigration laws is not politically correct, within the first 100 days of taking office, Obama put then-Attorney General Eric Holder in charge of pursuing a ‘racial profiling’ case against me – among other trumped up, failed legal pursuits – and eight years later they’re still pursuing the case.
Now, with Obama on his way out of office, he and DOJ officials know this is their last shot at taking me down. This highly unusual charge of criminal contempt against an elected local official should be seen for what is really is: a political maneuver by a corrupt Administration to damage me politically and a continuation of its War on Cops."
Cecilia Wang, of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says she believe Arpaio willfully violated a judge's order to stop detaining those suspected of being illegal:
“Sheriff Arpaio's conduct violating court orders was willful and deliberate and therefore criminal in nature.”
But Arpaio's attorney, Mel McDonald, says that there was no criminal contempt, and that he intends to push for a jury trial, stating that, “He is an elected official and should be judged by his peers.”
If convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt, 84-year-old Arpaio could serve up to 6 months in prison. He would not necessarily be removed from office — but even if he is not convicted, the charges alone are expected to cause him a little trouble at the polls.