The Trial

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

Cozzolino followed, saying he was worried LaChance might ransack or burn down the building. As Cozzolino describes it, he grabbed at the door thinking it was open. But LaChance had locked it. As he yanked, his hand slipped from the handle and he fell back; his gun went off.

Ballistics would seem to support Cozzolino's version. The bullet went into the door from a low angle, about three inches from the door's lock.

After the gun went off, Cozzolino yelled into the bowling alley asking LaChance if he was okay. He was. LaChance was about 20 feet from the bullet's trajectory.

LaChance then called 911 from inside. Police and deputies responded. By then, the two men had calmed down and LaChance was contrite.

Then sheriff's deputies began their investigation.

Nordman was interviewed. She explained that LaChance had attacked her. She explained that Cozzolino had intervened to protect her.

LaChance was interviewed. He explained that he had been the troublemaker, the aggressor. He scoffed at the idea that Cozzolino was a threat to him.

But both LaChance and Nordman say it quickly became clear that sheriff's investigators weren't interested in anything but nailing Cozzolino.

"It was amazing," Nordman told me. "They kept redirecting what I said, kept trying to put words in my mouth. Bob was the one who attacked me, Jim was the one who tried to save me. But they made it clear they would have none of that idea. It was clear they wanted Jim's head."

According to LaChance, the MCSO detective began his questioning of him by saying, "You're lucky that punk Cozzolino didn't shoot you in the back."

Three people involved in an incident describe the exact same scene. A woman says she was attacked by a man. A man freely admits he attacked the woman as well as the guy who tried to stop the attack.

Then, when the interviews were over, the guy who tried to stop the attack was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. His bond was set at $450,000.

Sheriff's deputies raided Cozzolino's house, told his wife and four kids to leave and proceeded to tear apart the house and confiscate many of the family's belongings. Many of those belongings, including family pictures, Cozzolino's Vietnam medals and the children's computer, have not been returned by MCSO.

The sheriff's department even impounded Cozzolino's 1974 Pantera, an extremely rare classic sports car he invested in with the intention of restoring it. He wasn't even driving the car that night.

Cozzolino spent $8,000 on attorneys' fees to get the car back. Why so much? After impounding the car, MCSO made bizarre claims that the car was obtained and financed illegally. Cozzolino was several times forced to present in court lengthy documentation to refute the charges. Then he had to find the vehicle. At one point, MCSO had even handed the car off to U.S. Customs.

Of course, when he got the car back, it had extensive body damage.

Regarding the bowling alley incident, prosecutors quickly dropped the attempted murder charges, but, at MCSO's urging, held firm on the aggravated assault charges. The sheriff wanted prison time for Cozzolino, a lot of it.

So Ulises Ferragut, his attorney, prepared for trial. As part of his discovery, he asked for video and audio tapes of the interviews of Nordman and LaChance following the incident.

Oddly, when he got the videotapes of the interviews, large chunks of the interviews were missing, particularly the parts where Nordman and LaChance say they explained to investigators what actually happened.

So Ferragut says he asked MCSO for the audio back-up tapes of the interviews, something investigators always make. MCSO officials told him they hadn't made any audio tapes.

As he prepared for trial, Ferragut and the original judge in the case received a strange, anonymous letter from "a concerned detective at MCSO." Ferragut says he didn't pay much attention to the letter because it was anonymous. "It could have been written by anyone," he told me.

But as preparation for the trial rolled on, Ferragut began to believe the letter was legitimate.

"From the beginning," the letter said, "it was ordered by Arpaio and Hendershott that Mr. Cozzolino was to be charged with anything he could be charged with regardless if it could be proven.

"I watched them tamper with the taped video recordings of the victim and witnesses taken after the incident, I watched them change the statements in their reports and lie about what actually happened at Fountain Hills Bowl that night.

"I have watched them take without warrant or due process his automobile that was at a repair shop.

"I know they have had him and his family under surveillance starting years ago, have illegally wire-tapped his home phone over the years, taken his trash from his home and have illegally invaded his privacy over and over again with reckless disregard of his rights. Unfortunately, I have taken part in some of these actions."

The letter writer claimed he could not identify himself because "I have a few more years until I am to retire from the Sheriff's Office. I have too many years invested in my job to let it all be destroyed at this point."

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