I start to ask him if Hull has cause to be worried, but at that point, someone I know appears in the restaurant, so I go and hide in the rest room, afraid he'll rat me out. He doesn't.

When I return, Arpaio gets called to a nearby table, to entertain a bunch of men with silver hair and leather skin.

I follow him.
"I have to take off, sheriff," I tell him, putting an arm around his shoulders. "It really was an honor meeting you."

We shake hands again. "You should come and live here," he says. "Scotland's a great country, but"--he starts to sing--"The sun shines every day in Arizona . . ." The men at the table laugh and applaud.

"Well, I am actually thinking about it," I say. "I reckon I'll be living out here within a year or so. Will you be governor by then?"

He looks at his apostles, then looks at me. "I will not be governor," he says. "It's a demotion."

On Friday morning, he has a news conference. The federal government has been investigating reports of brutality in Arpaio's jails. Today it has filed a lawsuit over it. But it has agreed to drop the lawsuit in six months if Arpaio implements certain changes to use-of-force policy in his jails. What this essentially means is that the feds believe the sheriff is guilty, and have put him on probation.

Not that you'd know it from the news conference, held jointly by Arpaio and Janet Napolitano, on the latter's final day as U.S. Attorney for Arizona. She's expected to announce her own run for governor soon.

In speeches that border on the surreal, both Napolitano and Arpaio declare that the sheriff has been exonerated. When the subject of the lawsuit is raised, Napolitano dismisses it as "a technicality."

"The federal government does not file lawsuits as technicalities," one attorney will quip afterward.

When a reporter asks Napolitano whether she believes the allegations against Arpaio are true, she says, "I'm not going to comment on the allegations."

It's sickening to see Napolitano back off from criticizing the most popular politician in the county. When a reporter suggests that her embrace of Arpaio might be motivated by her gubernatorial aspirations, she answers, "People can be cynical."

She ought to know.
Arpaio's performance is a familiar one. Never a man to discuss substantive issues when he can talk about himself, he begins by saying that it's good to be in the federal building, since he used to work for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He talks about how he's "famous all over the world," and says he doesn't consider the federal government's investigation to be an investigation, but a "management structure." He says he's never had anything to hide, that he has "an open-door policy."

New Times' Tony Ortega says, "Sheriff, if you have an open-door policy, will you meet me in your office on Monday morning?"

"I have an open-door policy for legitimate newspapers," Arpaio answers. Nobody asks him the criteria he uses to decide which newspapers are legitimate--perhaps because the answer is obvious. When you consider that Ortega's reporting on Arpaio made him Arizona Journalist of the Year, it's clear that to Arpaio a "legitimate newspaper" is one that doesn't ask hard questions.

By that criteria, most of those present at the conference are from legitimate newspapers. When he says his critics pick on him because of personal agendas, nobody asks what personal agenda made Amnesty International and a foreign court of law brand him a human-rights violator. They laugh at his jokes and address him by his stage name, "Sheriff Joe."

Although Arpaio has agreed to implement the measures recommended by the federal government, he says at the same time that nothing will change. "The chain gangs stay. The tents stay. The pink underwears [sic] stay. All my programs stay." So, presumably, torture and murder stay as well.

Arpaio seems to have forgotten what he told me on Tuesday, because, when asked if he'll support Napolitano's gubernatorial campaign, he chuckles and says, "I might be running against her."

As counselor to Anita Hill, Napolitano gained a reputation as a tough and pugnacious lawyer who knew the difference between right and wrong. In her cowardly praise of Arpaio, she reveals herself to be an expedient careerist unwilling to say anything that might harm her popularity.

And her capitulation is politically stupid. If by chance she and Arpaio do face each other for the governor's office, how is she going to criticize his policy of brutalizing inmates under his watch?

On the evidence of her behavior Friday, we should be grateful that the task of prosecuting Fife Symington was taken away from Janet Napolitano.

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com

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