Mar 18, 7:13 PM EDT

Arizona sheriff tries to head off contempt-of-court hearings


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PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona sheriff known for immigration crackdowns and a defiant political style has offered to publicly apologize and fork out money from his own pocket for his acknowledged violation of a court order in a racial-profiling case that barred his immigration patrols.

The concession by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is intended to short-circuit contempt-of-court hearings next month that were ordered by the judge in the profiling case and could reveal embarrassing details about the sheriff's office.

Arpaio's offer to end the civil case with the apology and payouts marks a rare public expression of contrition for the normally unapologetic lawman, whose immigration enforcement efforts helped win him popularity among voters but were eventually whittled down by Washington and the courts.

Arpaio has offered to use his money to make a donation to a Hispanic group and to seek money from county government to compensate people harmed by his violation of the 2011 order that barred his officers from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

Dennis Wilenchik, an attorney for a retired Arpaio aide also targeted in contempt hearings, believes some sheriff's officials may invoke 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination and refuse to testify for fear that whatever they say might later be used against them in any future cases.

"They are trying to avoid in any way, shape or form that hearing," Wilenchik said, adding that his client, Brian Sands, is willing to testify during the hearings.

Lawyers for Arpaio and top aide Jerry Sheridan said in documents filed Tuesday that their clients agree they committed civil contempt of court.

Arpaio attorney Mel McDonald and Tom Liddy, an attorney representing Marcipa County in the case, declined to comment on the sheriff's proposals. The sheriff's office also declined a request to interview Arpaio and Sheridan.

The decision over whether to call off the hearings is up to U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who made a May 2013 finding that the sheriff's office had racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and immigration patrols. Snow has repeatedly expressed frustrations about the violations of his orders.

If the judge doesn't cancel the hearings, they would also address a botched effort by the sheriff's office to gather videos of traffic stops that were supposed to be turned over but were withheld in the profiling case. Traffic stop videos are being reviewed to search for people harmed by the agency's violation of the 2011 injunction.

Arpaio has proposed making a public apology for the violations and pressing county officials to create a $350,000 fund to compensate people harmed. Arpaio, Sheridan and perhaps others would pool together contributions to make a $100,000 donation to a Hispanic civil rights group.

It isn't clear whether Arpaio and Sheridan would be the only contributors to the proposed $100,000 donation. The request to cancel the hearing was filed by only two of the five sheriff's officials who are targets of the civil contempt case.

In the past, the judge questioned whether the fines from a civil contempt finding would adequately address the violations. He also is considering launching a separate criminal contempt case that could subject Arpaio to more fines and even jail time.

Arpaio's attorneys say the hearings next month would unnecessarily waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of county taxpayer money.

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