Federal judge orders information be seized from Arizona sheriff

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday ordered U.S. marshals to seize documents from the office of controversial Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio as part of an ongoing racial profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow issued the order at an emergency hearing he convened after a court-appointed monitor reported that the sheriff’s office had failed to turn over information being sought in connection with the case.

In a brief order, Snow required that 1,459 identifications apparently taken from people by sheriff’s deputies during law enforcement actions and which were about to be destroyed be produced for federal marshals.

The judge also ordered that computer hard drives, documents and other materials related to an investigation involving the judge by a confidential informant be given to marshals by the end of the day on Friday.

Arpaio, the longtime Maricopa County sheriff, did not attend the last-minute afternoon hearing held in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Officer Chris Hegstrom said in a statement that it would be inappropriate to comment at this time, but added that the “truth will come out during the hearing process.”

U.S. Marshal David Gonzales told Reuters that the information ordered by the court had been seized by early on Friday night.

Snow, who has become increasingly frustrated with the sheriff’s office in recent months, has mandated that all information be preserved as the case heads into a second round of contempt of court hearings.

Arpaio and other current and former employees face civil contempt hearings scheduled to begin in September for repeatedly violating court orders relating to the long-standing case. Arpaio already has acknowledged he has committed civil contempt.

Possible punishment includes fines, restitution and increased oversight by the court monitor. They also could be charged with criminal contempt.

The court-ordered seizures represent another turning point in a case that was originally filed by civil and immigrant rights groups in 2007.

In 2013, Snow ruled that Arpaio and his deputies racially profiled Latino drivers during traffic stops and wrongfully detained them, a finding that the sheriff vigorously disputes.

The judge also ordered changes to the sheriff’s office and appointed a monitor to oversee operations and prevent any such repeats.

A civil rights lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department continues against Arpaio and his deputies, but both sides are trying to settle the case.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles)