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Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio faces contempt hearing in racial profiling case

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  (AP2011)

The sheriff for metro Phoenix begins a four-day hearing Tuesday that could bring him fines, damage his credibility and make him politically vulnerable for his acknowledged violations of a judge's orders in a racial profiling case.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has acknowledged disobeying the judge's pretrial order that barred his immigration enforcement patrols. He also has accepted responsibility for his agency's failure to turn over traffic-stop videos in the profiling case and bungling a plan to gather such recordings from officers once some videos were discovered.

The hearing marks the boldest attempt to hold the normally defiant sheriff personally responsible for his actions.

Arpaio is among the nearly two dozen people on the witness list, though it's unclear when he'll be called testify.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will decide whether Arpaio and four aides should be held in contempt for violating the order barring the sheriff's immigration patrols. Rank-and-file officers weren't told about the injunction, leaving them to violate the order for about 18 months.

The sheriff and his second-in-command, Jerry Sheridan, have acknowledged violating the order and being responsible for the agency's failure to turn over traffic-stop videos and bungling the subsequent plan to gather recordings from officers.

Arpaio proposed offering a public apology and making a donation to a civil rights organization from his own pockets.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has said the $100,000 donation proposed by Arpaio and Sheridan was an adequate personal financial penalty but rejected their requests to call off the hearing because their proposal didn't comprehensively resolve the contempt case.

It's unclear whether Arpaio's legal troubles are signaling an end to his 22-year political career. His political strength has been gradually declining over the past four election cycles, but his base of devoted supporters and impressive fundraising help him pull out wins.

Arpaio, through a spokeswoman, declined a request from The Associated Press to comment on the upcoming hearings.

"This is a man who has flouted the law so notoriously over 20 years, and yet he appears to be unscathed, although we taxpayers have paid a price for it," said Michael Manning, an attorney who has won more than $20 million in damages in lawsuits over deaths at Arpaio's jails. Manning isn't involved in the contempt case.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a friend and supporter of Arpaio, questioned whether the contempt hearings would make Arpaio politically vulnerable.

"I am disappointed that one of the few law enforcement officials who went after illegal immigrant s is being penalized for it," Kavanagh said.

Snow had said he intends on later launching a criminal contempt case that could expose the sheriff to jail time.

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