Posse Galore

Staking out Maricopa County's wildest political race -- to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio

All the goofball publicity antics of "America's Toughest Sheriff" would be really funny, all the strange, mean, paranoid maneuvers in this cage match of a sheriff's race would be really funny, if amid all the madcap mayhem you didn't have to read letters like this one from Catherine Smith:

"I have been incarcerated in Estrella Jail since May 19, 1999 on a charge of custodial interference. . . . At the time, I was two and a half months pregnant by my husband.

"I was housed in E-dorm along with 149 other women. E-dorm has no air conditioning and the swamp cooler was malfunctioning. Once the swamp cooler was fixed, the Jail Commander refused to turn it on. The only cooling came from a few floor fans, which the detention officer regularly shut off as punishment for such things as talking too much or being off one's bunk at the wrong time.

"When I got to jail, the doctor ordered an ultrasound which showed a healthy baby with good movement. . . .

"I became dehydrated from the heat and from diarrhea. I began losing weight (20 pounds in 2 months), yet despite numerous calls from my husband and the Public Defender's office begging the jail to do something so I would not lose my baby, nothing was done until I fainted on my way to court on July 19, 1999.

"That day, the doctor in medical could not find my baby boy's heartbeat, but still wanted me to wait until July 28 to be checked out. One of the volunteer doctors stood up and told them that would be unacceptable.

"I discovered my baby had died in utero at 18 weeks gestation.

"Please inform the people about what [Sheriff Joe Arpaio] does to innocent people."

If your first reaction is: "She's probably guilty, she's in jail," check the box by Joe Arpaio's name on the ballot in the September 12 Republican primary against Jerry Robertson. Or in the November 7 general election against Bobby Ayala or Tom Bearup.

Political wonks say you'll probably be in the majority. That's because Joe Arpaio, more than any law enforcement administrator in America, has done an exceptional job of creating an image and then selling it to the public.

But the other three candidates are begging voters to stop ignoring the man behind the curtain. Cruel and unusual punishment for inmates, many of whom, like Smith, who has a $300,000 lawsuit pending, have not yet gone to trial and who are often there only because they're too poor to afford bail, is not a qualification to be sheriff, they say.

Nor are the facts that:

• Arpaio was $8 million over budget for the last fiscal year. In the last few years, he has boosted the top echelon of his department, adding high-ranking -- and highly paid -- staff. He now has nine deputy chiefs, one chief deputy and six civilians who are paid deputy chief-level salaries, costing taxpayers a total of more than $1.6 million. That's compared with the five command staffers who earned a total of $300,000 in 1993. Arpaio's command staff is three times larger than that of the Phoenix Police Department, a substantially bigger agency.

• Yet last year, Arpaio told 64 detention officers that they wouldn't receive the modest $1,000 raises given to other sheriff's employees. In a memo, the sheriff said the department "did not have the funding" to cover $64,000 in raises. Still, Carol Munroe was hired a month later to direct Arpaio's new "animal welfare" programs. She makes $61,000.

• Arpaio is now asking the county board of supervisors for $1.2 million, up from $600,000 last year, to subsidize a fleet of leased take-home vehicles for more than three dozen favored staffers. No other county department provides take-home vehicles for similar-grade employees.

• Last September, Arpaio supported a move by chief deputy David Hendershott to collect retirement pay as well as a hefty county salary. Hendershott retired as a peace officer and was rehired the next day by Arpaio as a civilian in the same position at the same salary. He gained $51,000 in annual retirement pay in addition to his $120,000 a year salary, a salary that had already doubled over the previous three years. His unprecedented pay raises -- seven over three years -- increased Hendershott's retirement pay about $25,000 a year.

• Four years ago, the state auditor found that Arpaio had misused more than $122,000 of taxpayers' money from the jail-enhancement fund. Arpaio used the money to pay for a private attorney in a constitutionalist lawsuit against the county and for videotapes of his own television appearances, among other things.

• Since 1996, more than 2,600 lawsuits have been filed against Arpaio, including more than 850 by inmates. Payouts have totaled in excess of $16 million, while more than $35 million in wrongful-termination suits are pending. The death of Scott Norberg, who was choked to death by detention officers, cost the county $1 million in private-attorney fees, plus $8.25 million in settlement costs. In June, an appeals court upheld the payment of $1.5 million to Timothy Griffin, who suffered a ruptured ulcer after being refused treatment by jail medical staff.

• Although taxpayers pay only the first $1 million of any settlement, with insurance companies picking up the rest, insurance company representatives have warned the county that because of the conditions of the jails, the number of lawsuits and what they feel is shoddy defense in many of those cases, cost to the taxpayers in the form of premiums will most likely skyrocket when the county's insurance contract ends in two years, according to two high-ranking county officials.

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