Doubting Thomas

Tom Bearup helped elect Joe Arpaio and mold the myth of "America's Toughest Sheriff." Now the former executive in the Sheriff's Office is convinced he was wrong.

In the past two years, Arpaio has increasingly changed the organizational chart of the Sheriff's Office to bolster Hendershott's authority. The posse czar now also oversees SWAT, canine, and personnel divisions as well as all of enforcement support, which provides training to deputies and posse members. In Arpaio's absence--which is frequent, given his schedule of political appearances--Hendershott wields great power.

Bearup says he was under pressure to identify deputies who dared to criticize the sheriff, but he claims that he refused to do so.

Bearup: "I would tell him [Arpaio] what the problem was, and my concern was addressing the problem, not who said it. And Joe has an attitude sometimes of killing the messenger."

Hentoff: "What was his ultimate goal in terms of wanting to have information about what people were saying? . . . Why did he feel the need to get this information?"

Bearup: "I've often contemplated that over the course of the last five years, and the only thing I can attribute it to . . . is his many years of DEA experience, that he's dealt with a lot of drug dealers and people probably that are murderers, and he grew to distrust anyone at all. And there was probably a psychological paranoia that was developed. . . ."

Hentoff: "Did you remember when [former chief deputy] Russell [Pearce] testified at [Gary Josephson's] merit-system hearing? . . . He knew Sheriff Arpaio as being paranoid. Would you agree with his testimony?"

Bearup: "I certainly would today."
Bearup testified that when he refused to give up the name of a deputy who had criticized the sheriff, Arpaio said, "You're just worried that David [Hendershott] or me is going to kill him."

Bearup: "And I says, 'Well, frankly, that's probably what it is.'"
Hentoff: "Could you say what you mean by that? 'David or me is going to . . .' What did you mean by that last statement?"

Bearup: "That he was going to retaliate in some fashion or--he probably wouldn't have done it himself. He would have had Dave Hendershott, who was more of a crony that would do everything that he wanted him to do."

Bearup says such retribution usually took the form of transfers to dead-end positions. Deputies in places of authority and with long experience suddenly found themselves transporting prisoners to court appearances or working the graveyard shift in a basement properties office.

Bearup testified that Arpaio also bragged that he knew how to get around merit-system rules so he could fire someone he suspected of leaking news. That directly contradicts Arpaio's own earlier testimony in Josephson's merit hearing, when the sheriff denied ever saying he knew how to bypass those rules.

Arpaio became so paranoid about leaks of information that he asked Bearup to create a register which could keep track of every phone number employees called. Bearup says he advised against it. So Arpaio gave the job to Hendershott, and the system was implemented.

Despite the sheriff's popularity with the public, in his own office, Arpaio knew he was so unpopular that only by keeping his employees in fear could he assure their loyalty. That Bearup did not relish this management style, he believes, was one of the reasons Arpaio began to lose trust in him.

This spring, Arpaio made that clear to him.
"The problem with you, Tom, is you don't know how to lie," Bearup testified that the sheriff told him. Arpaio said it after accusing Bearup of coveting his job, which Bearup denied. Not long afterward, Bearup was stripped of most of his responsibilities.

Hentoff kept much of his questioning focused on this environment of deceit and betrayal.

"After reviewing Mr. Bearup's deposition," Hentoff says, "it's apparent that instead of seeking higher office, Sheriff Arpaio should concentrate on seeking psychiatric assistance."

"My faith is in God, not in Joe Arpaio," says Bearup, who claims that the sheriff actually demanded that he choose the other way.

Bearup repeats it for an incredulous listener: Arpaio wanted the part-time pastor to put his sheriff above his God.

When he didn't, Bearup says, Arpaio harassed him. "He used to page me in the middle of my sermons, knowing that he was doing that."

Bearup is standing in the aisle of his small church, posing for a photographer, and he can't stop breaking into laughter. Despite his uncertain political and business prospects, the short, stocky former lawman still has a sense of humor.

"I pray to God that when I get to heaven, I'm six-foot-five and have a neck," he says.

He gets serious again when he ponders his own role in the creation of "Sheriff Joe."

Bearup now admits that partly through his efforts, a gullible public bought the empty slogans and staged news events of a sheriff's office dedicated not to law enforcement but to a cult of personality.

Bearup says his early years were partly consumed with trying to improve Arpaio's image with longtime deputies. Bearup says it was generally a lost cause.

Appealing to the public was a different matter. Bearup oversaw much of the effort to get Arpaio on local and national and later international television, a task now handled by head flack Lisa Allen.

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