PHOENIX (AP) — The normally defiant sheriff for metro Phoenix responded meekly and shifted blame Wednesday as he was questioned in court about why he violated a judge's orders to stop carrying out his signature immigration patrols.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he accepts responsibility for disobeying the 2011 order, but he repeatedly added that he delegated the enforcement of the injunction to his lawyers and staff. He was asked whether he remember getting an attorney's opinion on carrying the order's key section.
"Not that I can recall," said Arpaio.
The sheriff could face fines if he's found in contempt of court for his acknowledged violations of the injunction and two other orders issued in a racial-profiling case that Arpaio eventually lost. Rank-and-file officers who were never told about the injunction violated the order for about 18 months.
The sheriff 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.
Arpaio made the acknowledgments in an unsuccessful bid to get the hearing called off. The contempt hearing marks the boldest attempt to hold the sheriff personally responsible for his actions.
His voice wasn't booming in court as it often is before TV cameras. Instead, he was hoarse, looked tired and often answered questions by saying he didn't recall. Arpaio's attorney hasn't yet had a chance to question him in court.
The sheriff, whose testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday, was questioned about a former supervisor on his smuggling squad who said Arpaio ordered him to violate the 2010 order.
A day earlier, Sgt. Brett Palmer had described a tense encounter with Arpaio about a month after the 2011 order was issued in which federal immigration authorities refused to accept immigrants who hadn't committed a violation of state law. Palmer said he planned to bring the immigrants to another federal immigration agency, but he was ordered to first call Arpaio, who ordered him not to release them. Palmer said the sheriff eventually backed down.
"That's his version," Arpaio said, adding that "I don't give orders to sergeants."
Another officer testified that Arpaio wanted the immigrants held so the news media could film them as they were being brought out of the building.
Stan Young, one of the attorneys who pushed the profiling case against Arpaio, cited a news release Arpaio's issued seven days after the 2011 order in which he said he'd continue to enforce illegal immigration laws. Young also seized on an interview with Univision in March 2012 in which Arpaio was asked if he was still detaining immigrants who are in the country illegally.
"Yes, we are," Arpaio told Univision. "We just arrested 31 or more recently coming into the country illegally."
Under questioning in court, Arpaio said he still had the authority at the time to enforce Arizona's immigrant smuggling law and other state immigration laws.
Earlier in the day, lawyers played a recording of a deposition in which a lieutenant suggested the sheriff defied the 2011 order.
Lt. Brian Jakowinicz recalled an encounter with Arpaio over what to do about immigrants who were in the custody of the sheriff's office. There were no state charges to keep the immigrants locked up, but Arpaio was insistent.
"You call Border Patrol. I am the sheriff. And I want you to call Border Patrol," Jakowinicz quoted Arpaio as saying.