Justice Department lawyers announced Tuesday they will prosecute Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for intentionally violating a federal judge’s orders in a racial profiling case.
The sheriff is facing a criminal contempt of court charge. The case began when a judge found Arpaio intentionally disobeyed a court order to stop making immigration arrests. Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section announced in a court hearing they will prosecute the six-term sheriff for that violation.
They said they would agree to limiting the possible penalty to six months or less in prison due to the sheriff’s age, 84, in order to have the trial be in front of a judge rather than a jury. Arpaio’s defense lawyer, Mel McDonald, said the sheriff wants a jury trial and will plead not guilty.
“All along he admitted mistakes were made. Our position is that there was no willful violation of the judge’s order,” McDonald said.
It is still unclear whether three others will also face charges. Early voting begins Wednesday in the sheriff’s race for re-election.