PHOENIX (Reuters) - A former supervisor in Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s human smuggling unit said on Tuesday that the controversial lawman was responsible for disobeying a court’s order that effectively shut down his high-profile immigration sweeps.
Arpaio, who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff”, attended the opening day of hearings to determine if he and four others should be held in civil contempt for violating court orders in a 2007 racial profiling case.
Sergeant Brett Palmer told the U.S. District Court in Phoenix that his efforts to push for deputies to be trained to comply with the court’s order had been obstructed by Arpaio’s stance and the immigration crackdowns continued.
Asked why he was rebuffed, Palmer said “it was contrary to the goals and the objectives of the sheriff.”
The 82-year-old Arpaio, who heads the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, had no comment about the allegations made against him when asked during a break in the proceedings.
Palmer also said the prevailing rules at the sheriff’s office were simple and direct.
“That it’s our duty to make the sheriff look good to the media and the public,” Palmer said when questioned by plaintiff attorney Cecillia Wang.
Judge Murray Snow has ordered that Arpaio appear before the court along with Chief Deputy Gerald Sheridan, retired Executive Chief Brian Sands, Deputy Chief John MacIntyre, and Lieutenant Joseph Sousa.
The five men face a range of sanctions from judge Murray Snow, including fines, restitution for individuals harmed and increased agency oversight.
Arpaio has previously admitted that he did not follow the judge’s orders and offered to personally pay $100,000 to a civil rights group.
At issue is a preliminary injunction in that case by Snow mandating that individuals could not be solely detained on the suspicion they were in the country illegally.
The crackdown on immigration overseen by Arpaio, however, continued for another 18 months.
The hearings also focus on the sheriff’s office failure to turn over audio and video recording evidence to plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In a sweeping ruling in 2013, Snow found that Arpaio and his deputies racially profiled Latino drivers during traffic stops and unreasonably detained them, violating their constitutional rights.
Snow installed a court monitor to oversee the operations of Arpaio’s office and ordered changes to prevent a repeat of the offenses.
Arpaio has denied that his office was guilty of racial profiling.
The contempt hearings are scheduled to run through Friday, with four more days of testimony expected in June.
Editing by Curtis Skinner