Posse Galore

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

• Jail conditions have worsened during Arpaio's regime. Two years ago, consultants hired to study the need for new jails concluded that the sheriff needed to dramatically raise staffing levels in existing jails. Jail reviews continue to show that dozens of posts at the Madison Street and Durango jails still are unstaffed and that critical jail maintenance has been chronically neglected.

• In 1996, a Department of Justice investigation found that Maricopa County inmates regularly were subjected to excessive force and received negligent medical care. Arpaio bragged later that he had changed nothing in the jails after the federal probe. Inmates at the Madison Street Jail are often locked up for two or three months before they receive medical screenings. In doing so, the department has been violating a court order from a 1983 lawsuit, which requires that inmates receive a medical screening within 14 days of their arrival at the jail. Deputies and detention officers say that such lax medical screening puts them, as well as other inmates, in danger of contracting diseases, and provides even more fodder for lawsuits.

Moreover, Arpaio's opponents say, by emphasizing publicity stunts over sound public policy, proper staffing and respect for basic human rights, and by rewarding sycophants and illegally punishing whistle blowers, Joe Arpaio has made a mockery of the Maricopa County sheriff's office. And in doing so, he has made life more dangerous for deputies, detention officers, inmates and those residents in the far-flung reaches of the county who depend on him for protection and rescue.

David Hendershott and Lisa Allen announced to the media last July that the sheriff's office had uncovered a plot to assassinate Joe Arpaio. The "plot" turned out to be more media event than death threat.
courtesy of KTVK-TV
David Hendershott and Lisa Allen announced to the media last July that the sheriff's office had uncovered a plot to assassinate Joe Arpaio. The "plot" turned out to be more media event than death threat.
Jerry Robertson believes the Republican voters of Maricopa County have wised up about Joe Arpaio, giving Robertson a chance to win the September primary.
Paolo Vescia
Jerry Robertson believes the Republican voters of Maricopa County have wised up about Joe Arpaio, giving Robertson a chance to win the September primary.

This is why, in an unusual show of unity, all the state's legitimate law enforcement associations representing all law enforcement personnel in the state are supporting Arpaio's Republican primary opponent, Jerry Robertson.

Still, none of this may matter, because short of indictment or recall, some observers predict, nothing is going to get between the law-abiding Americans of Maricopa County and their beloved embodiment of the American Western hero.

"You have this image that has been built so carefully, that is now so strong, that those substantial public-policy issues seem to completely bounce off him," says Bob Grossfeld, a longtime Arizona political strategist and pollster. "In a really sick, twisted way, this has become the mechanics of modern politics. It just finally caught up to Arizona with Joe Arpaio."

And Arpaio has one other huge advantage. His would-be general-election opponents, Bobby Ayala and Tom Bearup, with the help of their supporters, are presently slaughtering each other with claims of election fraud, criminal pasts, religious zealotry, adultery, tweaking, alcoholism, obesity, Napoleon complexes, tax evasion, political extremism and, in both directions, illiteracy and general stupidity.

This is why some feel the ultimate solution isn't to elect a new sheriff. The solution is to stop electing the sheriff.

Only when the county board of supervisors appoints the sheriff, some observers believe, will we finally start seeing the professionalism and fiscal accountability we see in the Phoenix Police Department or the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

"I'd hate to see that happen," says Robertson. "But I can definitely understand people's frustration. The whole thing can seem overwhelming sometimes."


A recent posting on an Internet chat board:

"Me and my friend Brian wish we had such a tough guy here in Germany. I just can say Joe Arpaio for president!"

[Response] "Lemme think. OK, last time you had such a guy, we all got World War II."

For those longing for the anti-Joe, Independent candidate Tom Bearup presents a conundrum. After all, Tom Bearup helped create Joe Arpaio.

"It was one of the things I regret most in my life," Bearup says. "I'm so sorry for that."

Bearup was a top aide and head of Arpaio's public relations bureau from 1992 to 1997, when he was run out of the administration. Bearup's take: He fell out of favor with Arpaio after he twice reported to him inappropriate handling of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of pink underwear by Arpaio's chief deputy, the perpetually embattled David Hendershott.

Arpaio has said Bearup was axed because he was incompetent and illiterate. Arpaio said in previous interviews that Bearup was nothing more than a chauffeur.

Arpaio declined to be interviewed for this story. Sergeant Dave Trombi, the office's public information officer, says New Times hasn't been fair to Arpaio and that New Times doesn't deserve an interview because it's just "an arts and entertainment magazine."

Other high-ranking MCSO employees, some still in the administration, confirmed Bearup's star-maker role in the sheriff's office.

And one of his roles, he says, was to "make Joe Arpaio a household name."

"You've got to remember the time," Bearup says. "We were just coming in after the (Tom) Agnos administration and the botching of the temple murders investigation. There was a bad cloud over the sheriff's office. We had to create a positive image again."

Gary Josephson, a retired state Department of Public Safety officer who had served as a video specialist under Agnos and then spent two years under Arpaio, was there for the makeover of his boss. At first, Josephson says, "Joe was just awful in front of a camera."

But Bearup and Lisa Allen, who joined Arpaio's staff after leaving local television, began coaching the sheriff. They taught him his tough-guy vernacular and tough-guy swagger, Josephson says, with Allen at one point telling him to "be the Italian stud that you are."

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