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National

Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Faces Trial On Criminal Contempt Charges

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The man who once styled himself as America's toughest sheriff is before a federal judge in Phoenix this week. Joe Arpaio was sheriff of Maricopa County for 24 years until his defeat in November's election. He now faces charges of criminal contempt for allegedly ignoring a judge's order to stop targeting immigrants. Supporters say Arpaio was merely enforcing the law. Critics say he went too far and split the community.

Jimmy Jenkins from member station KJZZ joins us from outside the federal courthouse in Downtown Phoenix. Hi, Jimmy.

JIMMY JENKINS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Pleasure to be here.

SHAPIRO: So what's happened in the courtroom so far today?

JENKINS: Well, we heard opening statements from the government and defense attorneys, Ari. In December of 2011, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop his deputies from arresting immigrants. So the government said it would prove Arpaio ignored that order for a year and a half, saying he wore his defiance like a badge of honor.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the witnesses who testified today.

JENKINS: So far we've heard from Timothy Casey, who was a special counsel for Sheriff Arpaio in a previous case. So when this injunction came down, he testified that he immediately spoke with the sheriff and his top brass. They broke it down into simple language that they could no longer enforce immigration laws and turn these people over for deportation. He said the sheriff understood and told him it wasn't a problem because according to him, they were no longer conducting the arrests. But Casey said he later found out that in fact they were.

SHAPIRO: What is at stake here for Arpaio? If he's found guilty, could he end up behind bars?

JENKINS: It's a misdemeanor charge, so he could face up to six months in jail. The sheriff is 85, so it's unclear whether the judge in this case would actually sentence him to time behind bars. But a criminal conviction after his political defeat last year would obviously be, in some people's eyes, you know, another nail in the coffin of his legacy here in Phoenix.

SHAPIRO: How is he viewed there in Phoenix these days?

JENKINS: Well, it's interesting. I'm standing down the street inside from a huge inflatable Joe Arpaio effigy showing the sheriff in handcuffs and wearing stripes. So it's interesting how public sentiment has turned. He was popular for so long here in Arizona, but so many people I've spoken with say they're just tired of having this one person with all of his legal troubles hanging over them for so long.

SHAPIRO: Jimmy Jenkins of KJZZ covering the Joe Arpaio trial there in Phoenix. Thanks very much.

JENKINS: My pleasure, Ari. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINKANE SONG, "JEEPER CREEPER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.