Arizona sheriff testifies in contempt hearing

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio took the stand in federal court to defend himself against charges that he deliberately disobeyed a federal judge's order to stop his immigration sweeps.

Arpaio told the court that it was his agency, and thus he takes responsibility for what happened.

When the spotlight is on Sheriff Arpaio, he's normally defiant and tries to live up to his reputation as "America's Toughest Sheriff."

But on Wednesday he showed a very different side as he testified. He was soft-spoken and almost meek. One phrase he said a lot in response to questioning was "I don't recall."

The American Civil Liberties Union attorneys questioned Arpaio about the federal court's order to put an end to his immigration patrols.

The Sheriff admitted to the contempt saying "I am the leader of this office, and I take responsibility." But when asked why his deputies were not in line with the court order the Sheriff shifted the blame saying. "(He) delegated this court order to his subordinates and to my council that represented me."

"The judge did comment that the Sheriff does need to answer the questions, and I'm hoping tomorrow he will do that," said Stan Young, an ACLU attorney.

"The entire defense is that the Sheriff's Department is too ignorant, too ignorant to have followed this order, so therefore it was not a willful violation, it was a violation due to stupidity," said activist Alfredo Gutierrez.

Earlier in the day the court heard from one of the Sheriff's top brass.

"We had one witness testify today that the Sheriff gave him a direct order to continue to send people to (the) Border Patrol, that's a direct violation of the injunction and the Sheriff is responsible for that injunction," said Young.

Arpaio's attorneys remain optimistic. "We've never disputed that stuff fell through the cracks, we're saying that it was not willful," said Mel MacDonald.

One of the Sheriff's former deputies is calling for him to step down.

"They need a change of leadership in that office because aside from this problem there's a whole lot of other problems," said Brian Sands, a former Deputy Chief, who was the head of the agency's illegal immigrant sweeps.

Arpaio is expected to be back on the stand into Thursday. The hearing resumes at 8:30 in the morning.

If he is found responsible for the charge of contempt of court, he could be issued a civil fine. It could open the possibility of a criminal contempt trial down the road.
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