Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has been formally charged with criminal contempt for flouting a federal judge’s orders in a 2007 racial profiling case.
If convicted, the 84-year-old lawman, who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” could face up to six months behind bars. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton signed the official misdemeanor count on Tuesday.
Arpaio’s harsh anti-immigrant stance and record of targeting Latinos, outspoken support for Republican nominee Donald Trump, and unconventional cost-cutting measures at the Maricopa County Jail, such as making inmates sleep in tents, have made him a controversial national figure. He’s now running for a seventh term as sheriff in Arizona’s second-largest county.
A federal judge ruled in 2013 that Arpaio and his department routinely relied on racial profiling and unlawful detention of Latinos while conducting immigration sweeps — and had continued to do so in spite of a 2011 court order to halt the practices.
Having a misdemeanor count on his record won’t prevent Arpaio from serving as a sheriff in the future, but the ordeal may hurt his chances of reelection.
The longtime support that the sheriff has enjoyed appears to be dwindling, according to a recent poll conducted by the Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News; Arpaio has a little over 31.1 percent of the vote of those surveyed, compared to Democratic challenger Paul Penzone, with nearly 46 percent.
Penzone told the Associated Press that Arpaio’s situation was “another example of the sheriff putting his own personal objectives ahead of the best interest of the community at our expense.”
Arpaio’s campaign manager said the charges were part of a larger conspiracy by President Obama’s government to discredit Arpaio. “The Obama Justice Department continues its efforts to influence the election for Sheriff of Maricopa County,” Arpaio’s campaign said in a statement shared with local station KNXV. “The Department’s actions in the last 30 days before the election are further attempts to sabotage Sheriff Arpaio… It is clear from the timing that the Department of Justice is merely a political tool of the administration.”
Arpaio’s legal troubles haven’t come cheap. County taxpayers have so far spent an estimated $48 million on Arpaio and his agency’s defense throughout the nearly seven-year racial profiling case, the Arizona Republic estimated. That number is expected to hit $72 million by next year.