Contempt of court hearing opens for Sheriff Joe Arpaio

A hearing opened in Phoenix Tuesday to decide if America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff, Joe Arpaio, should be held in contempt of court for violating a previous court order to stop his officers from conducting immigration patrols.

The four-day civil hearing stems from a 2011 court order in which Arizona Judge G. Murray Snow ruled the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office could not arrest people simply because they suspected them of being in the country illegally.

MCSO Sgt. Brett Palmer testified before a crowded courtroom Tuesday, claiming officers continued to do sweeping immigration patrols for 18 months after the judge ordered them not to.

Palmer, who supervised the office’s now-defunct human smuggling unit, said Sheriff Joe had instructed him not to train officers in accordance with the court order because doing so “was contrary to the goals and objectives of the sheriff.”

Palmer acknowledged he disagreed with some of Sheriff Joe’s approach to immigration patrols, such as his idea to set up roadblocks throughout Phoenix to catch illegal immigrants.

But Palmer said the main goal around the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was simply “to make the sheriff look good to the media and the public."

Sheriff Joe’s attorney, Michele lafrate, acknowledged there were violations but insisted they were “not on purpose.”

“They were negligent areas that need to be fixed, and Sheriff Joe… [is] committed to fixing these deficiencies and move forward,” lafrate said in court.

The sheriff is expected to testify at the hearing later this week.