Hog-Tied by the Truth

For the second time, a federal investigator has found appalling conditions in the county jails

Matthew Creamer resorted to another outlet. After filing repeated grievances over his 1994 beating, he took Arpaio and his detention officers to federal court. Although he had no money and was sitting in a prison cell in Florence, for nearly two years Creamer held off repeated attempts by the county to dismiss his lawsuit. Then, in December 1996, Creamer hired Patti Shelton, Joel Robbins and Nick Hentoff as his attorneys. (None of them would comment on Creamer's case, citing confidentiality agreements.)

"Sheriff Arpaio . . . is aware that there is a pattern and practice of excessive use of force on the part of MCSO jail staff and not only allows such practice but also condones it by failure to adequately train and discipline detention officers," Creamer's attorneys wrote in a legal brief. As they had in other cases, the attorneys introduced public statements made by Arpaio as proof that through his speeches he'd given his employees the green light to abuse inmates.

Six months after the pleading, county finance records show, the county cut a check to Creamer for $10,000.

Sullivan's conclusion mirrors the arguments made by attorneys representing inmates. "These [policies] are being made within the context of considerable public rhetoric presenting a 'get tough' and 'make conditions so miserable they will never want to come back' attitude. On the basis of my 42 years in Corrections, under these conditions, I can only forecast that the 'Quality of Life' in your Jail environments will deteriorate and that, concurrently, your needs to use force will increase. It is all professionally regrettable."

Robbins says Arpaio's refusal to release the report will backfire on the county. In federal civil-rights cases filed by inmates, attorneys' fees can be awarded, and the longer cases are dragged out, Robbins says, the more expensive it can be for the county to settle them. "It's Arpaio not wanting to admit that he's made a mistake. Maybe pounding the war drum and dressing his troops in combat boots isn't the right thing."

Arpaio says the report will have no effect on his policies.
"Inmates have no facts. They just talk," he says of the report.
Shelton says that doesn't surprise her. "Arpaio is just going to blow it off. He's blown off a respected international human-rights organization [Amnesty International, which condemned many of Arpaio's practices last summer]. And now he's blown off two federal investigators," she says. "How did he become an expert on correctional management since he has no [corrections] credentials? He's nothing but a politician."

The report comes just one day after Arpaio announced he wouldn't run for governor. The proximity of the two events leads some to wonder about a connection.

"There's no question. If he'd announced for governor, he would have been inundated with tough media scrutiny. He's weighed all of those things. If he knew the [Sullivan] report was coming out and it was going to be negative, that would have weighed heavily on his decision," says Tom Bearup, who was once Arpaio's top political aide. Bearup has recently been critical of Arpaio's policies--policies he helped put in place.

Arpaio says the report didn't influence his decision. He says he knew the report was nearing release, but that he didn't know the county attorney would release it Friday. He told reporters last week he thinks he would win a governor's race.

But Bearup disagrees. "I think he realized that he didn't have the support that he would need. I don't think there was any pressure from the Republican party itself, but I think he's heard from Republicans individually that they didn't want him to run."

Bearup may be right. Thursday night, after Arpaio had announced his intentions not to run, KPHO-TV, Channel 5, conducted an unscientific poll among its viewers, asking if they thought Arpaio would have made "a good governor."

Eighty-three percent said "No."

Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: tortega@phoenixnewtimes.com

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