Sheriff Joe Arpaio Will Be Charged With Criminal Contempt of Court

The Department of Justice wanted him to stop illegal immigration patrols.

Laura Segall/Zuma

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—famous for his hardline anti-immigration stance, dressing jail inmates in pink underwear, and housing inmates in Korean War tents in the desert heat—will be charged Wednesday with criminal contempt of court by the US Department of Justice for refusing to stop conducting immigration patrols, according to the Associated Press.

America’s Toughest Sheriff,” already embroiled in a tough reelection fight to win a seventh term, could face trial on December 6, the Arizona Republic reports. The charges stem from a finding by a federal judge that Arpaio and several top aides ignored court orders, lied to the court, and withheld information in a racial profiling case dating back to 2007.  If convicted of a misdemeanor, Arpaio could face up to six months in jail, while a felony-level charge could force him from office, according to the Associated Press. 

Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s attorney, told Mother Jones that he’s asked for a jury trial in the case, but that a final decision on it is pending. Also pending is whether the case will be charged at the misdemeanor or felony level, McDonald said.. “We’re going to plead not guilty, and we will fight them in court.”

Department of Justice attorney John Keller said in federal court Tuesday that the DOJ will continue to review evidence for possible charges related to concealing evidence in the case but isn’t yet ready to charge Arpaio, according to the Arizona Republic.

This story has been updated with a response from Mel McDonald, Arpaio’s attorney in the case.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.