The Justice Department will pursue a criminal contempt-of-court case against Joe Arpaio, the firebrand Arizona sheriff who a federal judge has said willfully defied his orders to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants without legal basis.
At a hearing in federal district court Tuesday, prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section told a judge that they intend to proceed to trial against the Maricopa County sheriff on criminal charges, a department spokesman said.
The judge ordered them to file the appropriate paperwork by Wednesday and set a trial date of Dec. 6, the spokesman said.
Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s attorney, said that Arpaio “vehemently denies that he was ever knowingly and willfully contemptuous of any court order” and that he intends to fight the allegations.
The development thrusts Arpaio, a prominent Donald Trump supporter, back into the public eye as the presidential election approaches. He was ordered years ago to stop enforcing federal immigration law by detaining people who are believed to be in the country illegally but who are not charged with violating state law.
In August, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio was violating the court’s order and that he should be referred to another judge for criminal contempt proceedings. The hearing Tuesday marked the first time the Justice Department had announced that it would go forward with the case.
An unarmed Oklahoma man shot dead by a police officer after his car broke down on a city street last month had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system when he died, a medical examiner said Tuesday.
Terence Crutcher, 40, had “acute phencyclidine intoxication” when he died Sept. 16. Officer Betty Jo Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter after his death, with a prosecutor saying she reacted unreasonably when Crutcher disobeyed her commands.
Medical literature says PCP, also known as “angel dust,” can induce euphoria and feelings of omnipotence and can lead to “combativeness-agitation,” mania and depression. Video from the incident shows Crutcher walking away from Shelby and other officers as they confronted him in fading light on a north Tulsa street.
Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, said Shelby was so focused on Crutcher that she did not hear other officers near her before she fired her service weapon. Almost simultaneously, another officer fired a stun gun at Crutcher as he moved toward his SUV.
Shelby, 42, has pleaded not guilty. She faces between four years to life in prison if convicted.
— Associated Press