PHOENIX — An Arizona sheriff known for crackdowns on illegal immigration is acknowledging he violated a judge's order to stop detaining people based solely on suspicion they're in the country illegally.
It marks a rare public expression of contrition for the normally unapologetic Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But it's also an attempt to head off court hearings in late April that would examine the violations and would likely provide embarrassing details about the sheriff's office.
Arpaio's acknowledgment backs up what county officials and the judge have said for months. His managers never told members of his immigrant smuggling squad that a judge in December 2011 barred them from stopping people based on suspicions about immigration status, leaving officers to violate the order for 18 months.
Lawyers for Arpaio and top aide Jerry Sheridan said in papers late Tuesday that their clients agree they committed civil contempt of court.
The decision over whether to call off the hearings is up to U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who made a May 2013 finding the sheriff's office had racially profiled Latinos in regular traffic and immigration patrols and has repeatedly expressed frustrations about the violations of his orders.
If the judge doesn't cancel the hearings, they would also address a botched effort by the sheriff's office to gather videos of traffic stops that were supposed to be turned over but were withheld in the profiling case. Traffic stop videos are being reviewed to search for people harmed by the agency's violation of the 2011 injunction.
Arpaio has proposed making a public apology for the violations and pressing county officials to create a $350,000 fund to compensate people harmed. Arpaio, Sheridan and perhaps others would pool together contributions to make a $100,000 donation to a Hispanic civil rights group.
It isn't clear whether Arpaio and Sheridan would be only contributors to the proposed $100,000 donation to the civil rights group. The request to cancel the hearing was filed by only two of the five sheriff's officials who are targets of the civil contempt case.
In the past, the judge questioned whether the fines from a civil contempt finding would adequately address the violations. He also is considering launching a separate criminal contempt case that could subject Arpaio to more fines and even jail time.
Arpaio's attorneys say the hearings next month would unnecessarily waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of county taxpayer money.
Arpaio's immigration enforcement efforts have won him support from voters and financial contributors over the years, but his immigration powers were gradually reined in by Washington and the courts. Late last year, Arpaio voluntarily gave up his last major foothold in immigration enforcement efforts.