The Trial

Existential nightmare? Nah, just Joe Arpaio destroying a political enemy

I've been here too many times before to muster much outrage or amazement. Watching Joe Arpaio's guys dismantle a little guy through gross abuse of police power has become a routine event in this county. The banality of evil, played out methodically over never-ending seasons, does that to a human. Like chronic back pain, it simply becomes the way it is.

That's why the slamming of a courtroom door by a 17-year-old kid last Friday was so damn refreshing. Bam! Wake up, people! While the rest of us took the sentencing of Jim Cozzolino in muted stride, so it goes, the naive little kid, Cozzolino's oldest son, was actually incensed that punishment in Joe's county often has nothing to do with justice.

The door slammed as deputies escorted Cozzolino, co-founder of the anti-Arpaio Web site arpaio.com and one of Joe's most vocal critics, away for four months in Joe's jail. Yes, kid, you're right. This is an outrage.

Rand Carlson

He slammed the door hard enough that dust shook loose from the recessed ceiling lights of Judge Mark Aceto's courtroom.

Many on Joe's command staff and "Threat Squad," known more for manufacturing bogus threats than finding real ones (reference the Seville case), were here for the sentencing. I sat to the right of Jack MacIntyre, Joe's erudite spinmeister spokesattorney, and behind Dave Hendershott, Joe's Jabba the Hutt-size double-dipping chief deputy of pink-underwear-scam fame. Jack read a magazine for four hours. Dave just looked deathly ill for four hours. He looks to be rotting from the inside out.

After the sentencing, Jack apparently returned to the office and force-fed a bogus accounting of the Cozzolino case to the Arizona Republic. The resulting story in Saturday's paper was so wrong, so out of context, it would be libelous if it hadn't been attributed to Joe's spooks, who are immune to such things.

"A man who fired a handgun at a business associate through a closed door in May 2002 was sentenced Friday to four months in jail and five years probation, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

The story continued: "James Cozzolino also was ordered to undergo mental health evaluations and cease contact with Sheriff Joe Arpaio after pleading guilty to aggravated assault in the incident at the Fountain Hills Bowling Center."

"After his arrest," the story claimed, "Cozzolino, 50, admitted making death threats against Arpaio over a Sheriff's Office radio frequency in 1999."

Strike all that from the record. It's nothing but a calculated smear by an elected official against a man who exercised his First Amendment right to voice his dislike of an elected official.

Jim Cozzolino did not plead guilty to aggravated assault. He pleaded guilty to the discharge of a firearm at a structure (a clearly accidental discharge, by the way). He did not fire the shot at the business associate. And he maintains his innocence in the late 1990s death threat case, a case which, New Times writer Tony Ortega documented at the time, was clearly Arpaio and his men's first attempt to set up and disappear a hated critic.

I've been following this case since the morning after the bowling alley incident. I've talked to the people there that night. I've suffered through the mountains of documents the case generated. It's the same old stuff. A clear abuse of power and waste of taxpayer dollars.

Here's what actually happened that night. And the weird crap that followed.

Cozzolino was manager of the Fountain Hills bowling alley. That night, after closing, one of the alley's employees, Bob LaChance, got into a fight with another employee, Melody Nordman.

LaChance was drunk, and when drunk, he's a self-admitted belligerent thug. LaChance is a 240-pound bulldog with eight years of boxing experience. I know because he sat to my left at the sentencing and chatted about what a huge jerk he can be.

Cozzolino, by the way, is maybe 5-foot-4 in boots.

That night, LaChance became enraged at Nordman. Cozzolino came out of his office to see what was going on. The fight escalated and LaChance grabbed Nordman by the throat and pinned her against a wall.

Cozzolino jumped between the two and broke LaChance's grip. Nordman bolted across the bowling alley heading for a door.

LaChance threw Cozzolino down and headed after her.

"She's pretty damn fast," LaChance whispered to me as Nordman recounted the scene for the judge.

"I wouldn't have gotten away if Jim hadn't helped me," Nordman told the judge. "I am not the victim. Bob is not the victim. Jim Cozzolino is the victim."

Cozzolino ran to his office for his handgun. He confronted LaChance, screaming at him to settle down. LaChance threw Cozzolino against a wall, then tossed him like a midget across a dance floor.

LaChance went outside. Cozzolino thought LaChance was going to chase down Nordman. Again, Cozzolino confronted him with the gun.

LaChance called the bluff. "I knew Jim wasn't going to shoot anyone," LaChance told me. He grabbed Cozzolino's hand and pulled the gun to his own chest. "Shoot me! Go ahead. Shoot me!" LaChance yelled.

Then LaChance marched back into the bowling alley through a side door.

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