PHOENIX — The self-described "America's toughest sheriff" has survived firestorms in the past, but none in the past decade have been as bad as what the lawman has been hit with in the past few weeks.
And in a few days, a federal judge could make things worse for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow heard arguments over a lawsuit from a handful of Latino residents alleging racial profiling during Arpaio's immigration sweeps. He could send it to trial, throw it out, or declare that Arpaio uses racial profiling in his immigration enforcement.
The accusations echo those in a scathing U.S. Justice Department report last week that resulted in the sheriff's office losing its power to checks inmates' immigration status.
Arpaio on Wednesday questioned the timing of the report's release.
"Why couldn't they wait? Were they trying to poison our (racial profiling) case?" Arpaio said. The sheriff did not attend the hearing Thursday.
The Latinos claim officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics in vehicles, pulling them over without probable cause to inquire about their immigration status. The stops were made during his department's immigration patrols in metropolitan Phoenix.
They are seeking a declaration that the sheriff's office violated their constitutional rights and must establish stronger policies that protect against racial profiling.
Stan Young, a lawyer for those who filed the lawsuit, said Arpaio launched sweeps after he received racially charged letters and emails that complained of people speaking Spanish. Tim Casey, a lawyer for Arpaio's office, said the sheriff's office launches its sweeps on race-neutral grounds and that the sheriff never acted on those letters.
The hearing was the latest among the mounting legal problems and blistering criticism facing the sheriff in just the past three weeks.