PHOENIX (AP) – Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio intentionally ignored a court order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants to keep his name in the news during a tough re-election year, a federal prosecutor argued Thursday at the end of Arpaio's criminal trial.
The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix, whose crackdowns on illegal immigration made him a national name, knew that a judge barred the patrols but kept them up for nearly a year and a half for political reasons, prosecutor John Keller said in his closing argument.
Arpaio's lawyer denied it, saying the lawman did not intend to disregard a court order that failed to take into account when his officers were helping federal authorities with immigration enforcement.
"What he said was, 'I am enforcing the law,'" said attorney Dennis Wilenchik.
Arpaio is charged with misdemeanor contempt of court for violating a 2011 order to stop the patrols that a judge later determined racially profiled Latinos. The 85-year-old retired lawman would face up to six months in jail if convicted, though attorneys who have followed the case doubt that someone his age would be incarcerated.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who will decide Arpaio's fate, ordered attorneys to submit legal briefs and will deliver her decision sometime in the future.
Outside of court, Arpaio said he felt good about where his case is headed.
"I am always optimistic. I've got good lawyers," Arpaio said as he walked to a waiting vehicle.
Arpaio's tactics over 24 years in office drew fierce opponents as well as enthusiastic supporters nationwide who championed what they considered a tough-on-crime approach, including forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in tents outside in the desert heat.
Prosecutors said Arpaio cast himself as an anti-government figure and used the patrols targeting immigrants in the country illegally to help raise money during his 2012 campaign.
"He wanted to raise money and win re-election, and it worked," Keller said.
Prosecutors also cited Arpaio's use of TV interviews and news releases to boost his popularity as they try to get a conviction from U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton. Keller played videos of TV news interviews in which the sheriff promoted his immigration enforcement efforts.
A clip from a Fox News interview six months after the order showed Arpaio saying federal authorities were taking custody of immigrants detained by his deputies, even though they had not been suspected of state crimes.
"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been taking them off our hands when we have no state charges," Arpaio said in the March 2012 interview.
Keller said Arpaio's motive was to collect campaign contributions and used the sheriff's words to back up his argument.
"They don't give you money if they don't believe in you," Arpaio said in a video clip recorded six months after the order.
Arpaio carried out the sort of local immigration enforcement that President Donald Trump has advocated. To build his highly touted deportation force, Trump is reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.
Arpaio's immigration powers were eventually stripped away by the courts and federal government.
His attorney said during his closing arguments that the 2011 court order was vague and didn't confront times when the sheriff's office was helping federal authorities.