Trick or Threat

On Halloween, Joe Arpaio and his men set a new low for police harassment

Like a serial killer, Joe Arpaio is getting cockier and dumber with each hit.

This time, Arpaio cited Joe Arizona, the pitchman for Proposition 201, with a class 1 misdemeanor for impersonating a highway patrol officer at a downtown restaurant on Halloween. Arizona, whose real name is Nick Tarr, was wearing an outdated Department of Public Safety shirt with two kiddie sheriff's badges draped loosely over an "I Love Arizona" tee shirt. He was wearing a park ranger hat, hiking boots and a pair of Sheriff Joe's famous pink boxers.

It was Halloween. People dress up funny on Halloween.

And if this is "impersonating an officer," we must have some ridiculous-looking officers in this state.

The scene was certainly ludicrous: sheriff's deputies, directed by Arpaio's top henchman, David Hendershott, mulling around for an hour trying to figure out a crime they could charge Tarr with.

But despite the media's giggling, the scene is not hilarious. The core issues here are far too serious.

Slapping Tarr with a criminal citation was nothing more than a political hit by Arpaio. And it is just the latest in Arpaio's disturbing litany of using his police powers to harass or destroy political opponents.

Tarr is guilty only of being the pitchman for the Indian gaming initiative that opposes Joe Arpaio's Indian gaming baby, Prop 202.

As you read two months ago in this column, Jon Beydler, the mayor of Fountain Hills, was guilty only of questioning whether his city was getting a good deal paying Arpaio $1.5 million a year for law enforcement services. For that, Arpaio's deputies show up to arrest Beydler for child endangerment. Beydler's young daughter, angry at her sister, wouldn't get out of Beydler's car when he reached his business in Fountain Hills. He stepped out of the vehicle to answer a cell phone call; sheriff's deputies quickly arrive and accuse him of endangering his daughter.

Tom Bearup was guilty only of running against Arpaio in the last election. For that, Arpaio illegally had Bearup's phones tapped and had him tailed. Bearup's son continues to be tailed by sheriff's deputies.

Chris Gerberry, a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detention officer, was accused of handing over a jail medical log to reporters. The log was public record, even if Gerberry had been the one who passed on the information. He was run out of the department with a bogus lie detector test and other tricks Joe uses to frame people who question him.

The list of retaliation victims continues into the dozens, if not hundreds. They join the long list of men and women maimed or killed by detention officers or fellow inmates amid jail conditions Joe proudly makes substandard and dangerous.

Scott Norberg, Charles Agster, Eric Vogel, Jefferson Davis McGee -- the dead and wounded continue to pile up.

Of note: An appeals court recently upheld the damning verdict in Flanders v. Maricopa County, a 2000 case in which a jail inmate was awarded $635,000 in damages after fellow inmates severely beat him with tent stakes. In essence, county taxpayers lose money because, as a judge wrote, "the jury could determine that the Sheriff was callously indifferent to the Eighth Amendment's requirements and to the exposure of Tent City inmates to serious injury."

It's not just the Eighth Amendment that Joe finds so repugnant.

In Nick Tarr's case, Joe found humor in trampling on the First Amendment.

Here's how the deal went down:

On Halloween, Tarr, a.k.a. "Joe Arizona," decided to dress up in a costume for a string of appearances to promote Proposition 201, the Indian gaming ballot initiative for which he is the spokesperson.

Nick Tarr and Arpaio had traded barbs over the issue.

Tarr went to his dresser and found a five-year-old pair of Arpaio's infamous pink underwear. Tarr had bought the pink underwear at Kmart back when Arpaio was selling the underwear to raise money for law enforcement programs.

Or so Arpaio claimed. As reported by New Times' Tony Ortega, hundreds of thousands of dollars of pink underwear donations seemed to have disappeared after passing through the hands of chief deputy Hendershott.

Tarr put on his campaign's goofy "I Love Arizona" tee shirt, a Smoky Bear-type hat and two fake-copper Old West sheriff's badges, the kind of children's badges you can buy at any Arizona tourism shop. Then, over the tee shirt, he draped an old Department of Public Safety shirt he bought years before at a uniform shop.

Tarr is an actor and standup comedian. He has a large collection of outfits for skits and plays.

Tarr's first stop was Tom's Tavern in downtown Phoenix. The restaurant's owner, who supports Prop 201, had asked Tarr to make an appearance.

Tarr walked in and began greeting patrons with his Joe Arizona shtick.

Within two to three minutes, he says, he was confronted by two sheriff's deputies.

"It was amazing how fast it happened," Tarr told me. "They said: You've got to step outside.'"

Tarr asked: "What's the problem, officers?"

"They didn't say anything," he says. "All of a sudden, they were all on their cell phones. It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen."

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