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Many readers here are no doubt familiar with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose outlandish activities regularly surface in diaries and comments. Indeed, most of the country has at least heard of the controversial Arizona lawman, courtesy of a 60 Minutes episode, his books like Joe’s Law and America’s Toughest Sheriff, Arpaio’s constant mugging for the press, and his seemingly never-ending “Bizarre Activity of the Week” – everything from making prisoners wear pink underwear, to his illegal sweeps that target brown people, to torturing inmates (sometimes to death).

It’s no wonder Sheriff Joe has more lawsuits pending against him than the next ten large county sheriffs combined: his tactics are illegal, racist, and unconstitutional. The cases that have been settled, most of them brought by families of inmates who were injured or died in his custody, have cost the county millions of dollars. Some of these people were merely awaiting trial, not yet convicted of anything.

But good news or bad, Arpaio wouldn’t have it any other way. He even once said “it’s an honor” to be compared to the KKK, since that proves to him, in some warped way, that he’s pissing off his opponents and therefore doing his job. Arpaio never saw a television camera he didn’t like; indeed, he has his own public relations department that’s responsible for keeping his name in the spotlight. He’s been in the news more recently because a just-released Rasmussen survey shows him the front-running Republican to win Arizona’s 2010 gubernatorial race. Heaven help us.

One thing many politicians here don’t want to do is get on the wrong side of Joe Arpaio and his goons. He has a memory and vendetta streak that rivals J. Edgar Hoover’s. A story in this week’s New Times, “Serving Up Stapley” by Ray Stern, shows just how deep his vengeance runs.

For years, New Times, the Valley of the Sun’s alternative newspaper, has been a thorn in the sheriff’s side. Stephen Lemons (aka The Feathered Bastard) writes an excellent column almost every week that skewers Arpaio and his loyal henchmen. Anyone living in Arizona who wants to stay abreast of Arpaio’s repulsive activities should frequent Lemons’ column or blog, since you’re not going to see these stories in the Arizona Republic or on television. The recent 30-minute special on Channel 12, “Arpaio: Above the Law,” while good to see, was far from hard-hitting journalism.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
Another important member of the Arpaio goon squad is Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who endorses most of the sheriff’s activities, giving him legal sanction to carry out his political grudges. They also run as a team at election time. New Times pissed of the dynamic duo so bad a few years ago that detectives showed up at editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin’s homes late one night in 2007 to arrest them for, of all things, publishing Arpaio’s home address (which anyone could find in the phone book or on the Google). That case was so manufactured, vindictive, and flawed it was tossed out, but it did temporarily galvanize the Valley’s milquetoast media in support of the journalists and against Arpaio’s bulldog methods – something many of them had been afraid to do in the past.

Indeed, the sheriff makes for scintillating news, so most journalists do not want to end up on his enemies list, which, as Stern reports in this week’s story, continues to grow – including names like current Republican governor Jan Brewer; Attorney General Terry Goddard, who Arpaio would likely face in the 2010 governor’s race if he ran; Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, the ACLU (of course), and a host of others who’ve crossed the sheriff in one way or another.

One name Stern doesn’t mention is former Governor Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of Homeland Security. Sheriff Joe even campaigned for the Democrat Napolitano. Why would a rightwing lunatic who pals around with neo-Nazis support Janet? I know you’re not supposed to call Republicans Nazis here at DKos, but Arpaio is friends with people like State Legislator Russell Pearce and former Precinct Committeeman J.T. Ready, a known neo-Nazi who runs a White Supremacist website I won’t link to. Here, take a look at Pearce, a sitting Legislator, and some of Joe’s other friends and supporters.

Most observers believe the reason behind Arpaio’s support of Janet is that she, hoping to appear tough on crime during her races for Attorney General and then Governor, would not criticize Arpaio’s immigration policies. I've known Napolitano more than 20 years, and while it was great to see a Democrat in the Executive Office, she certainly was no flaming liberal, and her support of Arpaio was disappointing, although it demonstrates his power here. As Lemons described it earlier this month:

Napolitano has been looking away from Arpaio’s misdeeds for practically her entire political career. That’s because the pair have been political allies. In 1997, Janet Reno’s Justice Department sued Arpaio over the conditions in his jails. When a settlement was declared, Napolitano, then Arizona’s U.S. Attorney (and itching to run for state attorney general), appeared at a joint press conference with Arpaio and provided cover for Maricopa County’s top constable. She pooh-poohed the lawsuit as a “technicality” and “a lawyer’s paper.” In 2002, as Napolitano was engaged in her first gubernatorial campaign, Arpaio broke GOP ranks, and returned the favor by doing a TV ad on Napolitano’s behalf.

Another Arpaio Target
This week’s New Times article by Ray Stern tells the story of another person who ended up on the wrong side of Arpaio – Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, a Republican who has held that influential seat for more than 15 years. Maricopa County is one of the largest and fasted growing in the nation, more than 4,000,000 people, where cities like Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale, and more than a dozen other once distant communities have grown together into a giant blob. Consequently, nearly everything, from highway construction to water management and housing development, requires a county focus, which makes the five elected supervisors very important people. Don Stapley has been a pillar of the community and a prominent cog in the Valley’s Mormon leadership for many years. Anyone who’s driven around Mesa has probably been on Stapley Drive, named for his pioneering ancestors.

In 2006, County Attorney Andrew Thomas’s office received an anonymous tip that Stapley was not on the up and up with his financial disclosure forms, and an investigation followed. Curiously, at about the same time Thomas received a similar tip about Joe Arpaio’s business holdings, including a failure to disclose his properties. It was the same crime, but Thomas chose not to pursue this tip, which was not anonymous, but came from County Elections Director Karen Osborne. In fact, former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a Republican with an impeccable reputation who was famously fired by Bush in 2006, said about Arpaio’s misuse of funds and political vendettas: “I would go to a grand jury. I would work very closely with the [Justice Department’s] civil rights criminal division in Washington, D.C. And, based on the information that I have, I would seek an indictment.”

Thomas, however, did not. So why did he, with the sheriff’s support, launch a major investigation of Stapley over a disclosure violation that seemed trivial at best? Why did they spend hundreds of lawyering hours and millions of dollars pursuing an anonymous lead, but not follow up on a verifiable tip? Why did they subpoena Stapley’s bank accounts, interview just about anyone the County Supervisor knew, hire accountants to dig into his land holdings and business dealings, and pressure Stapley’s donors into making incriminating statements? Why did they tail Stapley to work at the County’s offices earlier this year, arrest him in the parking lot, handcuff him, and then walk Stapley to the nearby jail in front of television cameras that happened to be there? The answer, according to Ray Stern, is clear: “In the end, the Stapley case looks like the latest in a long string of vendettas by Arpaio and Thomas.”

What had the Republican Don Stapley done to incur Arpaio’s wrath? To begin, Stapley is no innocent altar boy in this story. Although he’s not been indicted or convicted of anything yet, some of his real estate and political dealings seem a bit shady, such as using campaign contributions for a hair weave and other personal matters. But to think Arpaio and Thomas are doggedly pursuing this case because they simply want to “uproot corruption” and stamp out unethical practices, which is what they’d have us believe, is beyond laughable, considering the long and very documented history of Arpaio’s own unethical behavior.

No, what Don Stapley had done was cross Arpaio in public. Specifically, he spoke out against the immigration sweeps where, in SWAT-like fashion, the sheriff’s deputies lock down a few square blocks, infiltrate the community, and demand papers from anyone of the brown persuasion – mostly kids working at carwashes, laborers doing landscaping, restaurant staffs, and construction and warehouse workers. DWB, or Driving While Brown, is also a guilty offense. These sweeps usually net a few hundred people, of whom a handful are here illegally. They make for great television (Joe makes sure the networks know ahead of time where they’ll be), although occasionally Arpaio runs into someone, like Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez, who doesn’t want the bully in her neighborhood. There is a showdown between her and Joe at about 1:45 of this short documentary, which also provides a nice overview of Guadalupe's unique cultural heritage:


Strange Bedfellows
The sheriff’s tactics have caused an uproar that has led to some interesting bedfellows. Arpaio and Thomas, of course, parrot the Lou Dobbs’ line, arguing that illegal immigrants cause most of our crime, bankrupt our schools and hospitals, and take jobs away from Arizona’s citizens. Human rights, Hispanic, and leftist groups see it slightly differently, arguing that Arpaio’s profiling tactics are racist and unconstitutional, something Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has said, which has landed him in Arpaio’s doghouse.

Interestingly, another group that often argues against the sweeps, the border wall, and the Militia Men patrolling the border, and for amnesty, is the business community – the chamber of commerce types who typically side with the GOP. You’ll find Senator McCain’s name on that list too. Why? One thing the corporate sector here knows is they cannot exist without cheap immigrant labor. The people picking our lettuce, changing our hotel linens, mowing our lawns, serving our dinners, washing our cars, and building our homes are often here illegally, and many businesses would just as soon turn a blind eye to the immigrants’ status and take advantage of their situation. A successful 2008 ballot proposition, however, mandates that employers verify their employees’ citizenship, which has forced many undocumented workers to move elsewhere. That’s satisfied the anti-immigrant crowd but threatens many businesses, a point Stapley has made. As a member of the National Association of Counties, and a businessman himself, Stapley has publicly spoken out against Arpaio’s tactics and pushed for immigration reform, which, as Stern points out, is “code for amnesty among right-wingers.”  

One wonders if Stapley should prepare for an assault similar to the one Dan Saban experienced during the 2004 and 2008 elections, when former Buckeye police chief Saban ran against the blowhard Arpaio. People often wonder why the voters of Maricopa County keep electing Sheriff Joe. Believe me, a lot of us try to unseat the rude SOB! But this is a very conservative county in a very conservative state, and a great number of people here, especially the retirees in places like Sun City, love Arpaio’s “get tough” attitude. They love it that he tells liberals to fuck off. They could care less about his shredding of the Constitution or the millions Arpaio has cost taxpayers – he’s a badass damnit! He’s also unscrupulous. His 2004 and 2008 election tactics, for example, were on par with the Swiftboating of Kerry or the first Bush’s Willie Horton ad. Stern tells the story:

The politically motivated assault on Dan Saban was particularly egregious. After Saban kicked off his 2004 campaign, his mentally compromised stepmother, Ruby Norman, contacted Hendershott [Arpaio’s deputy] and claimed Saban had raped her three decades ago, when he was 15 years old. Suspiciously, Hendershott erased a tape he had made of the phone interview. Hendershott assigned members of the Sheriff’s Office “threat squad” to drive to her home and take down her story. There was no evidence that the allegation was true, and even if it were, the statute of limitations on it had expired many years earlier.

Still, the written report of the deputies’ interview with Norman was handed off to a reporter from Channel 15 (KNXV-TV), who had been told about the claim even before the deputies arrived at Norman’s house. The Channel 15 report broadsided Saban’s campaign and contributed to him losing the race.

The allegations would surface again in 2008 – this time in the form of the mud-slinging, prime-time TV ad paid for by the Sheriff’s Command Association. Viewers found the SCA ad so tasteless that TV stations pulled it the next day. But, as before, the damage to Saban’s second run for county sheriff was severe. Arpaio won a fifth term.

As it turns out, the $105,000 from the Sheriff’s Command Association used to make the campaign ad was part of an illegal slush fund that County Elections Director Karen Osborne wanted Andrew Thomas to investigate – the very tip Thomas’s office has not acted on.

Last year my 86-year-old father called me, after reading a story about Arpaio in his newspaper. He wanted to know if this guy was for real. "I hope not," I said, "I hope he's a nightmare from which we'll soon wake up."

Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Thu Nov 26, 2009 at 11:33 PM PST.

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