By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By 6 p.m., a bruised and battered Sheriff Mack was back at the chow wagon, his lip busted open and his back and neck bruised. His white horse had reared and tossed him to the ground.
"I've told the family that if he's out there, he's dead," Mack said Thursday evening.
The next morning Greenlee County deputies found Rodriguez's body, face down, beneath a tree, less than a half-mile from the camp. He hadn't been dead too long. The body was intact. No bugs. No ravens or vultures or coyotes had gotten to it yet.
"He looked like he had been dead at least two or three days," says Mack, indirectly acknowledging it was possible Rodriguez had been still alive when Mack called off his search on Monday.
The off-and-on search may fan the flames of an effort to remove Mack from office. It's the second attempted recall against Mack in two years.
The first recall effort--which started after the unsolved murder of a Safford woman raised questions about Mack's handling of the investigation--stalled a few hundred signatures short of triggering a special election. Backers claim they were intimidated and threatened by Mack supporters.
The second recall petition was launched after Mack appeared on a CNN talk show last spring. Debbie Campbell, who initiated the latest recall, says Mack angered some Safford residents with his antigovernment rhetoric.
Campbell also believes the sheriff is spending too much time outside the county, promoting his constitutionalist agenda.
The latest recall effort has generated immense controversy in this remote town, with vicious letters on both sides of the issue appearing in local newspapers. Sheriff Mack's father has stepped into the fray, verbally lambasting Campbell. She has filed reports with Safford town police complaining about the elder Mack.
Campbell, a 44-year-old mother of five, also has sought a restraining order against a local resident who is a friend of Mack's father. The man, Ronald E. Stone, dresses in full militia gear, including a pistol, and accosts Campbell while she circulates petitions. He has walked up to her, clicked his heels and shouted "Heil, Hillary!" while giving the Nazi salute.
The biggest thorn under Sheriff Mack's saddle is Chuck Rosa, a local newspaper publisher. When it comes to Rosa's Wild West News, Mack does not exhibit First Amendment tolerance. Instead, he says things like: "I don't owe him or his newspaper anything."
This is how Sheriff Mack has handled a real-life First Amendment issue in his county:
Rosa, who devotes most of his eight-page paper to police news, often reprints conversations picked up over a radio scanner. Frequently, those conversations involve the police and the public.
Mack refuses to release any more radio and telephone logs to Rosa, which, even Mack acknowledges, are legally a matter of public record.
Lawyers for the First Amendment Coalition, which represents many media outlets throughout the state, say Mack is illegally withholding the records.
"There is no question these are public records," says First Amendment Coalition lawyer Sarah Porter.
But Mack says some members of the public are afraid to call his office because they don't want their names to appear in the Wild West News.
Mack says his duty is to the members of the public first, and if they don't want their names in the paper, he will do everything he can to keep their names out.
"He [Rosa] demanded to have a copy of all our dispatcher radio logs, which will have more names of people who call in," Mack says. "I told him absolutely not."
Mack despises Rosa, whom he calls "a sick individual," and his newspaper, which takes frequent potshots at Mack.
"His whole newspaper is nothing but a vendetta," Mack says. "That's all it is. There's nothing worthy about it. It provides no service to the community."
Rosa can't get his hands on the public records because he doesn't have enough money to file a lawsuit challenging Mack's refusal to release the records.
"Mack says he supports the Constitution, but he certainly is abridging the Constitution in keeping these public records from me and keeping public information from the citizens of Graham County," Rosa says.
Rosa hasn't let lack of public records stop him from covering the sheriff's office. He was the first reporter on the scene when Rodriguez's body was discovered. He was confronted by a sheriff's deputy while approaching the area and told to leave the scene immediately.
Rosa refused, and a shouting match ensued, which Rosa taped. Rosa says Graham County Sheriff Deputy Dwayne Elders shoved him, punched him in the chest and struck Rosa's camera, jamming it into his face, while he was attempting to photograph Elders.
Elders has confirmed that he physically forced Rosa from the scene, Mack says.
Rosa wants criminal assault charges filed against Elders; he also wants $250,000 to settle his impending lawsuit against the county.
"I'll take payments," Rosa says.
Mack wants criminal charges filed against Rosa for interfering with a police investigation.
"I told the deputy he should have arrested Rosa and not wasted any time with further warnings or any type of physical confrontation," Mack says.