PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Thursday made their final pitches to a judge who will decide the fate of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a defiant longtime lawman whose crackdowns on illegal immigration made him a national name but ultimately led to criminal charges.
The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix intentionally ignored a court order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants to keep his name in the news during a tough re-election year, prosecutor John Keller said in closing arguments at Arpaio's criminal trial.
Arpaio's lawyer denied it, saying the sheriff did not intend to violate the 2011 order that failed to take into account when his officers were helping federal authorities with immigration enforcement.
"What he said was, 'I am enforcing the law,'" defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik said.
Arpaio is charged with misdemeanor contempt of court for keeping up the patrols that a judge later determined racially profiled Latinos. The 85-year-old faces up to six months in jail if convicted, though attorneys who have followed the case doubt that someone his age would be incarcerated.
Arpaio's tactics over 24 years in office drew fierce opponents as well as enthusiastic supporters nationwide who championed what they considered a tough-on-crime approach, including forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in tents outside in the desert heat.
Outside of court Thursday, Arpaio said he felt good about his case.
"I am always optimistic. I've got good lawyers," Arpaio said as he walked to a waiting vehicle.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who will decide whether to convict him, ordered attorneys to submit legal briefs and will deliver her decision sometime in the future. A different federal judge issued the 2011 order.
Prosecutors said Arpaio knew that judge barred the patrols but cast himself as an anti-government figure and kept them going for nearly a year and a half to help his 2012 campaign.
"He wanted to raise money and win re-election, and it worked," Keller said.
Prosecutors also cited Arpaio's use of TV interviews to boost his popularity as they try to get a conviction from Bolton. Keller played videos of interviews in which the sheriff promoted his immigration enforcement efforts.
A clip from a Fox News interview six months after the order showed Arpaio saying federal authorities were taking custody of immigrants detained by his deputies, even though they had not been suspected of state crimes.
"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been taking them off our hands when we have no state charges," Arpaio said in the March 2012 interview.
Keller said Arpaio's motive was to collect campaign contributions and used the sheriff's words to back up his argument.
"They don't give you money if they don't believe in you," Arpaio said in a video clip recorded six months after the order.
Arpaio carried out the sort of local immigration enforcement that President Donald Trump has advocated. To build his highly touted deportation force, Trump is reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.
Arpaio's immigration powers were eventually stripped away by the courts and federal government.
His attorney said during his closing arguments that the 2011 court order was vague and didn't confront times when the sheriff's office was helping federal authorities. Wilenchik said it was legal to turn over immigrants.
He also claimed an attorney who represented Arpaio for nearly six years in the racial profiling case didn't give the sheriff clear instructions on complying with the order. Arpaio delegated the training materials to attorney Tim Casey and members of his staff.
"He delegated them to do it, and they didn't do it," Wilenchik said.
Casey testified last week that he told Arpaio his officers would either have to arrest or release immigrants who had not been suspected of a state crime and could not bring them to federal immigration authorities.
Arpaio's legal woes are believed to have contributed heavily to his crushing defeat in November.
Associated Press reporter Anita Snow contributed to this story.
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