Insider Account

One of sheriff's former henchmen tells of dubious tactics

Wetherell says Hendershott hoped to find evidence that Battilana had actually caused both deaths.

"Wow. They even tried that angle. I had nothing to do with it, obviously. These guys will go to any depths, I guess," says Battilana, who now works in corporate security after being fired from the sheriff's office in 1996. His appeal has yet to be decided upon by the county merit commission.

With Arpaio making daily political appearances and speeches, it's the powerful Hendershott, deputies say, who really runs the sheriff's office.

"I don't know if there's anybody in that office that trusts Dave Hendershott or has for years," Wetherell says. "Obviously, everybody's huddled around him now because he's the power man and now they're his best friend to stay in his good graces. But he's truly a laughingstock outside of his earshot."

It was Hendershott, he adds, who believed that the sheriff's office was bugged, and called for a particularly sensitive meeting to be held at an outside location.

It was July 1996, and the Battilana investigation had concluded. Wetherell says Arpaio, Hendershott, spokeswoman Lisa Allen, former political aide Tom Bearup and several other top-ranking officials met at a hotel on East Van Buren Street to discuss making massive changes in personnel. Bearup tells New Times he distinctly remembers the meeting and the employee transfers that followed it.

Wetherell says he was instructed to bring a list of deputies that Hendershott had identified as being of questionable loyalty.

"The meeting was held to reorganize the office to put the team players in key positions and move malcontents where they couldn't do any harm. That's when these people got these crummy assignments like a lieutenant supervising a telephone that never rings. . . . They had me bring the list of names from the Battilana investigation to that meeting, Hendershott did, to make sure they highlighted those folks for undesirable assignments," he says.

At the time, New Times noted that deputies were calling in a flood to say that the large number of transfers, 74, was clearly meant as a message to the rest of Arpaio's sworn employees that they would be punished severely for revealing the department's secrets.

Wetherell was himself one of the deputies to receive a transfer. As a reward for his work in the Battilana case, Arpaio made him permanent commander of internal affairs.

Less than 60 days later, however, Wetherell received a phone call from an anonymous source who complained about Hendershott's handling of the money being raised by posses through the sale of pink underwear. Wetherell says he relayed those concerns to Roe and Allen.

"The next thing I know, I'm out of there," Wetherell says.
Less than two months after getting his "permanent" assignment, Wetherell found himself in the aviation department.

There he found numerous abuses of aircraft by posse members, but he says his complaints to Hendershott fell on deaf ears. "There's a lot of shady stuff going on, as far as the posse goes. These guys were filling the helicopter up with gas and blazing out of there, and we don't know what they're doing. . . . I wrote up a big thing on how many hours they had put on that aircraft, and how many hours they actually went out and did police missions and how much fuel was consumed. It was crazy. If they got four hours of service time out of 100, it was a lot," he says.

Wetherell points out that it's part of a pattern at a sheriff's office that values image over substance.

"Everything drops for anything publicity-related. Then if something new with publicity comes along, you drop the previous project and go to the new one," he says.

"We're supposed to be putting bad guys behind bars. Instead of protecting the public, this administration is focused on publicity and going after people internally who they perceive aren't part of their team. It's the wrong focus."

Arpaio, Hendershott and Lebowitz all did not return calls for comments on this story.

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

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