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Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio charged with criminal contempt

The charge stems from several court orders to stop discriminating against Hispanic people by arresting them when they have not broken any state laws.

By Stephen Feller
Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., pictured during his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, was charged Tuesday with criminal contempt for repeatedly disobeying court orders to discontinue a pattern of stopping Hispanic people who have not committed crimes. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., pictured during his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, was charged Tuesday with criminal contempt for repeatedly disobeying court orders to discontinue a pattern of stopping Hispanic people who have not committed crimes. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

PHOENIX, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The man who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff" was formally charged with disobeying a court order for using a system of racial profiling in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio will face trial on criminal contempt charges for ignoring a federal court order to stop racially profiling Hispanic drivers, part of a hard stance on immigration that has included aggressive efforts to find and imprison illegal immigrants.

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The charges come Tuesday, weeks before Election Day, when he hopes to win a seventh term as sheriff of Maricopa County.

Arpaio established an outdoor prison in 1993 -- entirely made of tents -- where the county has detained people who were stopped by officers based on their race or ethnicity. The sheriff's office was often responsible for rounding them up and bringing them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if not the tent prison, despite not charging them with a crime.

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An investigation stemming from a 2007 lawsuit alleged the sheriff had instituted a pattern of targeting Hispanic drivers and several judges have admonished Arpaio for disobeying repeated orders to stop targeting Hispanics.

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Arpaio was told in 2011 that he and his deputies were banned "from enforcing federal civil immigration law or from detaining persons they believed to be in the country without authorization but against whom they had no state charges," but they allegedly ignored the order.

Arpaio's lawyers said he would plead not guilty to the charges, which carry a sentence of up up to six months in jail if he is convicted. Arpaio will not be arrested or required to appear in court to enter his plea.

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Arpaio's campaign manager said in a statement the charges are politically motivated and proof the Obama administration is attempting to influence the election there.

"The [Justice] Department's actions in the last 30 days before the election are further attempt to sabotage Sheriff Arpaio in his bid for a seventh unprecedented term as Maricopa County sheriff," said Chad Willems, campaign manager for Arpaio. "It is clear from the timing that the Department of Justice is merely a political tool of a corrupt administration. Justice plays no part in this department's actions and clear political motivations."

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