Trick or Threat

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

Unbeknownst to Tarr, the scene was being orchestrated from back in the restaurant.

Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, the conduit for all those missing pink underwear proceeds, was lunching at Tom's Tavern when Tarr walked in. According to witnesses sitting near Hendershott, Hendershott immediately began making calls on his cell phone once Tarr stepped in the restaurant.

(Neither Hendershott nor Arpaio would return my calls regarding the incident.)

Joe Arizona,  a.k.a. Nick Tarr,  in the Halloween costume that angered deputies.
Joe Arizona, a.k.a. Nick Tarr, in the Halloween costume that angered deputies.

"I never saw Hendershott," Tarr says. "But he obviously saw me."

But Greg Cole, who I interviewed Sunday, did see everything. Cole, a spokesperson for the Prop 201 campaign, was having lunch with his father 15 feet from Hendershott's table. Cole says he had no idea Tarr would be coming to the restaurant.

"You got Hendershott way in the back of the restaurant," Cole says. "Every few minutes, he stands up, walks over and peeks around a pole to see what's happening outside. Then he gets on his cell phone. He and all these other deputies were always on their cell phones.

"And Hendershott had this runner, some deputy he kept making run back and forth to the scene. Hendershott clearly was the quarterback for the activity."

But Hendershott and his deputies clearly weren't sure what charges they could drum up on Tarr.

Soon, more deputies came. More cell phone calls. Finally, one deputy ran over from the sheriff's office with a book detailing Arizona's criminal statutes.

"They're all hovering over this statute book," Cole says. "One of the guys is sitting there licking his fingers thumbing through the statute book. They were whispering and all excited."

All the time, Tarr was contrite. He offered to take the DPS shirt off several times.

Finally, deputies found statute 41-1754, "Impersonation of a highway patrol officer."

The statute reads: "A person is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor who either: 1. Without authority, wears the badge of a member of the highway patrol or a badge of similar design that would tend to deceive. 2. Impersonates a member of the highway patrol with the intent to deceive."

Tarr says two DPS officers also arrived. He says it sounded like deputies and MCSO officials were trying to convince the DPS officers to cite Tarr for impersonating an officer.

But, to their credit, the DPS officers drove off. And a DPS source who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to me that the DPS officers at the scene were angry that they were asked by MCSO to waste their time on such a frivolous issue.

And DPS officials publicly disputed Hendershott's claim that it was illegal to own an old DPS shirt displaying a DPS patch.

"There's nothing illegal about owning a DPS patch and probably anybody could wear one of these patches," DPS spokesman Steve Volden said last week.

Unbowed when confronted by competent law enforcement, sheriff's deputies just wrote Tarr the citation themselves.

Tarr is looking at up to a year in jail.

"I'm just scared now, plain scared," Tarr says. "And who knows, will they do something to me somewhere else? I'm afraid to drive anywhere.

"I feel like I've just completely had my civil rights trampled," he says. "I still can't believe it."

County attorney officials said they could not comment on whether they plan to pursue the charge against Tarr.

However, sources in the county prosecutor's office indicate they, like DPS officials, also see this citation for what it is: pure, dirty politics.

Although it is unclear if Hendershott was working under Arpaio's orders at the scene, Arpaio defended the actions of his men the next day at a press conference. The press conference, ironically enough, was to promote Ford's redesign of the Crown Victoria gas tank, which has been blamed for the deaths and severe injuries of several officers around the country.

None of Arpaio's men have been killed because of the flaw. But that didn't stop Arpaio from using the press conference as a platform.

Responding to questions about Tarr's citation, Arpaio became angry:

"Men have died in that uniform!" he exclaimed.

I don't know of anything more grotesque than a cop covering up his own crimes with the bodies of fallen comrades.

Let's recap:

A known political figure walks into a restaurant on Halloween in what is clearly, to any thinking human, nothing more than a goofy Halloween costume.

At least 10 Maricopa County Sheriff's Office employees spend an hour trying to figure out a way to throw the political figure in jail for wearing a Halloween costume.

Now, an American citizen is looking at a year in jail for trying to express his First Amendment right to free speech.

Is this funny? While most of the Valley's media have laughed the incident off, I don't see the humor here.

All I see is a new low for America's most abusive law enforcement department.

All I see is a sheriff and his posse gone mad with power.

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