The first day of former Maricopa County, Az., Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s criminal contempt trial set the stage for what promises to be days of hair-splitting testimony over emails, public statements and private conversations, all to answer one question: What was Arpaio’s position on immigration enforcement between December 2011 and May 2013?, the Arizona Republic reports. Attorneys laid out dueling theories as the trial opened yesterday, focusing on whether Arpaio willfully violated a federal order barring his office to enforce federal immigration laws. Prosecutors characterized the testimony of former Arpaio attorney Tim Casey as damning. Defense attorneys alleged that Casey confused the order for his client, rendering Arpaio blameless.
U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors provided a series of Arpaio’s own statements in an attempt to demonstrate he knew about the 2011 order and then thumbed his nose at it. Defense attorneys challenged the underlying order, simultaneously claiming it was unclear and inappropriate in the face of federal immigration policies. The contempt case stems from a racial-profiling lawsuit in which the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations claimed that Arpaio had singled out Latinos in his office’s immigration-enforcement operations. Justice Department attorney Victor Salgado said that in the 17 months after the court injunction, Arpaio’s office illegally detained at least 170 individuals in violation of the order.