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Apr 21, 11:36 AM EDT

Arizona sheriff faces contempt hearing in profiling case


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AP Photo/Ross Franklin

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The sheriff for metro Phoenix begins a four-day hearing Tuesday that could bring him fines, damage his credibility and make him politically vulnerable for his acknowledged violations of a judge's orders in a racial profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide whether Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and four aides should be held in contempt for violating an order barring the sheriff's signature immigration patrols. Rank-and-file officers weren't told about the injunction, leaving them to violate it for about 18 months.

The normally defiant Arpaio has acknowledged disobeying the order from the judge that found his deputies racially profiled Latinos. He also has accepted responsibility for his agency's failure to turn over traffic-stop videos in the profiling case and bungling a plan to gather such recordings from deputies once some videos were discovered.

The hearing marks the boldest attempt to hold Arpaio personally responsible for his actions. The sheriff, who denies his office racially profiled Latinos, is among the nearly two dozen people on the witness list, but it's unclear when he will be called testify.

Arpaio proposed offering a public apology and making a donation to a civil rights organization from his own pocket. The judge has said the $100,000 donation was an adequate personal financial penalty but rejected requests to call off the hearing because it didn't resolve the contempt case.

It's unclear whether Arpaio's legal troubles are signaling an end to his 22-year political career. His political strength has been gradually declining over the past four election cycles, but his base of devoted supporters and impressive fundraising help him pull out wins.

Arpaio, through a spokeswoman, declined a request from The Associated Press to comment on the upcoming hearings.

"This is a man who has flouted the law so notoriously over 20 years, and yet he appears to be unscathed, although we, taxpayers, have paid a price for it," said Michael Manning, an attorney who has won more than $20 million in damages in lawsuits over deaths at Arpaio's jails. Manning isn't involved in the contempt case.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a friend and supporter of Arpaio, questioned whether the contempt hearings would make Arpaio politically vulnerable.

"I am disappointed that one of the few law enforcement officials who went after illegal immigrants is being penalized for it," Kavanagh said.

Snow had said he intends on later launching a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to jail time.

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