Soft Cell

Special handling for a federal prosecutor's drunken-driving case sparks controversy in sheriff's ranks

Not unusual, either, was her attorney's request that she be allowed to serve her sentence outside the general jail population. Judges, cops, prosecutors and celebrities who run afoul of the law are often put in what's called "administrative segregation," the department's term for protective custody. Or, they're allowed to do their time at smaller county facilities such as those in Mesa or Avondale.

But never, as far as anyone interviewed could tell, has someone been given her own jail with her own high-ranking detention officers.

"I've never heard of anything like it," says Chris Gerberry, president of the Maricopa County Deputies Association and a vocal Arpaio critic who has a wrongful-termination suit against Arpaio pending in court. "It absolutely stinks of favoritism."

In fact, Roberts was at first scheduled to serve her sentence in Wickenburg, according to court records. Records don't reflect why she went to the training facility instead.

Allen and Colbert, on the other hand, think those criticizing the case are involved in a political witch hunt of which Roberts is the only real victim.

"Arpaio's enemies are grasping at straws by trying to say this is a big deal," Colbert says. "There is nothing here. We're stunned that people would even try to make the connection."

But why wasn't she isolated in Tent City like many inmates? Or locked up in the women's facility at Estrella Jail? Or sent to Avondale or Mesa?

Allen dismissed all the apparent options:

Of serving at Madison: "The tanks we have at Madison are crowded with rather yucky, dangerous people."

Of Estrella: "That's pre-trial for women. She couldn't go there."

As for Tent City, she says, "The isolation tanks are taken up by people who have disobeyed the rules. They're in lockdown. You have four people to a cell, too. There's no room for her."

Gerberry, Smith and several other detention officers and deputies say Allen's comments are ludicrous.

"Look, it's crazy," Smith says. "Maybe you put them in an administration hall, whatever. It can be done all kinds of ways without going out to the middle of nowhere and hiding everything and paying supervisor-level people a ton of overtime. It doesn't make sense."

Gerberry says it certainly looks fishy. The U.S. attorney was investigating Hendershott, then Hendershott does something nice for somebody within the U.S. Attorney's Office, he says.

Wrong, Allen says.

Or, just silly, Colbert says. If the sheriff's office was doing the U.S. attorney a favor, she says, neither Roberts nor anyone else in the department knew it was a favor. Few in the U.S. Attorney's Office knew about Roberts' DUI, she says.

Moreover, she says, Roberts had nothing to do with the Hendershott investigation, nor was Roberts even aware Hendershott was being investigated. Assistant U.S. attorneys often don't know what cases other attorneys are working on, she says.

And "absolutely, unequivocally," Colbert says, Jose de Jesus Rivera, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona and Roberts' boss, no way involved himself in Roberts' DUI case.

"It was absolutely a personal issue," Colbert says.

Roberts, she says, was just told where to go to serve her time, "and that's what she did."

"How can it be a benefit if the person who is supposedly benefited didn't know she was receiving a benefit? She didn't know anything about that facility. She just went to the address she was told to go to and then did her time."

"Whatever it was," Smith says, "it irritates you when you know how short-staffed the detention facilities are. To waste so much money and be secretive about it, it just looks bad. It just really ends up looking like preferential treatment."

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