Controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio could face six months in jail after he was charged with contempt of court for violating a judge's orders that his deputies stop pulling over Latino drivers on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
Arpaio styles himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," and is best known for forcing jail inmates to wear pink underwear, organizing citizen "posses" and reintroducing chain gangs.
He's become a hero to some conservatives for his tough-on-crime theatrics, and a villain to organizations like the ACLU, which has repeatedly accused Arpaio of violating the civil rights and dignity of the inmates he's responsible for.
In 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow, presiding over a racial profiling case, ordered Arpaio to stop instructing his deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona, to execute traffic stops on Latino drivers based on nothing but the suspicion that they're in the country illegally, according to The New York Times.
The 84-year-old sheriff, who is running for a seventh term, openly defied the judge's order, claiming he's been targeted because he “dares enforce the rule of law.” Arpaio argued that he's simply enforcing a federal law that the federal government refuses to enforce.
The sheriff is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 6 for a tentative trial date, NPR reported. Federal authorities are also considering charging Arpaio with obstruction of justice, according to The New York Times, which would result in more severe penalties if Arpaio is convicted.
Arpaio's legal problems alone have cost Maricopa County taxpayers some $50 million, according to The Associated Press. That includes a judgment against the sheriff and the county after a jury concluded Arpaio and his deputies framed 18-year-old James Saville for an alleged bomb plot against the sheriff.
A subsequent investigation revealed that Arpaio's detectives purchased parts for the bomb themselves and coerced Saville to build the bomb as part of a publicity stunt to help Arpaio's 1999 election bid. Saville, who spent more than four years in jail, won a $1.6 million judgment against Arpaio and Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times.
Arpaio and his office were also accused of ignoring some 400 sexual abuse cases, resulting in a $3.5 million settlement in favor of a 13-year-old girl whose sexual assault case was ignored, RT reported.
After the feds unveiled the charge against him, Arpaio remained defiant.
“I am going to fight this," Arpaio said, reported the Times. "I’m not going to resign like some of my critics want me to do. And I am going to be re-elected, and I will continue serving this county.”