Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s attorney, said that Arpaio “vehemently denies that he was ever knowingly and willfully contemptuous of any court order” and said that he intends to fight the allegations.
The development thrusts Arpaio — a prominent Donald Trump supporter whose extreme stance on immigration has drawn condemnation from those who say his enforcement policy is racist, and praise from those who view him as tough on illegal immigration — back into the public eye as the presidential election approaches. He was ordered years ago to stop enforcing federal immigration law by detaining people believed to be in the country illegally without state charges.
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. Snow’s order, which will form the basis of the charge against Arpaio, says the sheriff’s office “continued to stop and detain persons based on factors including their race, and frequently arrested and delivered such persons to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] when there were no state charges to bring against them.”
“Sheriff Arpaio did so based on the notoriety he received for, and the campaign donations he received because of, his immigration enforcement activity,” Snow wrote.
The hearing Tuesday marked the first time the Justice Department had announced that it would go forward with the case. The department also said it would not bring charges against three Arpaio associates because of “procedural defects” with their cases.
McDonald said he hopes to get the Dec. 6 date pushed back and to present the case to a jury rather than a judge. Prosecutors requested the judge set a cap on the possible penalty at six months. Arpaio is 84.