By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A package containing an explosive device was mailed to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," but was intercepted by Arizona authorities, the sheriff's office said.
A suspect has been identified in the case, officials said.
Arpaio, known for his hard-line approach to law enforcement, has taken an aggressive stance on illegal immigration that has made him a controversial figure. He was the subject of a U.S. Justice Department probe over his office's treatment of Latinos. He has also drawn criticism for housing county detainees in a Spartan "Tent City" jail.
The package was intercepted late on Thursday in Flagstaff, Arizona, a popular vacation destination 120 miles north of Phoenix, officials said. Arpaio's office is in Phoenix.
"One of the postal workers noticed some black gunpowder leaking from the package and called police," Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan told Reuters in a phone interview.
A police bomb squad came and examined the package, X-rayed it and saw "what appeared to be an explosive device inside," Sheridan said. They blew up the package with a water canon, he said.
"If the device had been detonated, it could have caused very serious injuries and possibly deaths," Sheridan said. "There was that much explosives found in the package."
Sheridan said authorities had identified a suspect in the case but he declined to release more information. The package was originally dropped off at a U.S. Postal Service mailbox several miles from Flagstaff, he said.
Arpaio told Reuters he would not be deterred by such threats. He did not name the suspect.
"I'm concerned and somewhat angry that certain groups around the nation want to intimate me (to) get me to leave office," he said. "My answer to that is that it will never happen. I'm going to be the sheriff here for several more years."
Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Flagstaff police and U.S. postal inspectors were on the case.
(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Orlosky, Cynthia Johnston and John Wallace)