False Positive

Is Joe Arpaio up to his same old dirty tricks? This time, a man's life may be at stake.

Jim Cozzolino wasn't afraid of serving jail time. He was just afraid of where he'd be serving that jail time.

Two months ago, Cozzolino was sentenced to four months in jail for illegally discharging a weapon ("The Trial," December 25). No matter that his gun accidentally fired during a melee in which he was attempting to save an employee of his from a drunken attacker. No matter that nobody was hurt in the incident and the employee and the attacker both described Cozzolino's actions as heroic.

The gun went off. That's a crime in Arizona, especially when your biggest political enemy is running the investigation of the incident.

Rand Carlson

Jim Cozzolino doesn't like Joe Arpaio. He thinks he's a crook masquerading as a sheriff. Cozzolino has said as much numerous times on the anti-Arpaio Web site he helped create -- Arpaio.com.

Joe Arpaio doesn't like Jim Cozzolino, either. Indeed, Arpaio even wrote the judge at Cozzolino's sentencing asking him to give Cozzolino the maximum sentence possible. It was a ludicrous, slanderous letter full of misinformation about Cozzolino, a letter that should have illustrated to the judge who the true victim in this case was.

Still, Superior Court Judge Mark Aceto gave Cozzolino four months -- four months that would be served in Joe Arpaio's jail.

"They're going to try to do something to me," Cozzolino told me at the time. "I'm screwed."

How right he was.

Three weeks ago, Cozzolino called while out on work furlough to once again vent his fears. He mentioned that he was being called in regularly for random drug and alcohol tests.

Odd, since Cozzolino was convicted of illegal discharge of a weapon, not a drug or alcohol-related charge. Also, none of the other inmates around him in Tent City (four of whom I interviewed last week) had been tested once and most of them had been in the jail for months on drug or alcohol offenses.

Cozzolino's tests were all coming back clean. But he worried that once Joe's guys grew frustrated with all the clean tests, they might manufacture a dirty one.

On the night of February 5, not long after Cozzolino had returned to the tents from his job at an automotive store, he was called once again to go to the office for another test.

At the office, Cozzolino was confronted by a detention officer named Brandt, Cozzolino and witnesses say. Brandt had Cozzolino breathe into a Breathalyzer. He was clean. Cozzolino was then ordered to go urinate in a cup for a drug test.

The officer disappeared into a back room. A half-hour later, he came out to Cozzolino and told him he'd tested positive for methamphetamine.

Cozzolino asked to be tested again, but Brandt said no.

So Cozzolino was thrown into solitary confinement -- "the hole." No calls out. No contact with anyone. No new tests.

Cozzolino couldn't contact his attorney or anyone else to get an independent test. Methamphetamine clears out of your system in three days or so, so any second test would be considered invalid if it wasn't administered quickly.

If the dirty test were allowed to stand, Cozzolino would have been looking at serving the rest of his jail time in solitary confinement. He would have lost his job, which, because he spent so much money defending himself in the criminal case and getting his car back that the sheriff's office had illegally confiscated, likely would have meant losing his family's home.

He even may have been looking at having his probation revoked. If that happened, he could have been looking at eight years in prison.

Luckily, Cozzolino had an angel on his side.

A few hours after Cozzolino was sent to the hole, the county's probation department received a call from a sergeant in the jails.

The sergeant told probation officers that they should conduct a second drug test. At 10 the next morning they did -- and Cozzolino came up clean.

The probation officers confirmed the results with a second test conducted by a nearby private laboratory. Again, no traces of meth. Probation officials confirmed to New Times they found no drugs in Cozzolino's system.

Cozzolino was removed from solitary confinement and placed in a crowded cell to await transfer to the work furlough program. He spent 12 hours in that cell because, detention officers said, his transfer paperwork had been misplaced. By the time he was returned to the tents at 4:30 a.m. Monday, he had gone 36 hours without sleep. He left an hour later for his job.

Let's be very clear on this point: Had it not been for one sheriff's office employee courageously questioning those test results, had it not been for probation officers willing to conduct further tests, Jim Cozzolino could be spending the next eight years of his life in prison.

The sergeant is nothing less than a hero. And I'm quite sure his life will now be made unbearable by Arpaio and his henchmen for his courageous act.

The following Monday, Cozzolino's attorney, Joel Robbins, moved swiftly to hold the sheriff's office accountable for its actions and to get Cozzolino away from any further harassment.

Citing the false drug test and other evidence of harassment, Robbins filed a $1 million claim against the county. At the same time, he sent a letter demanding an investigation of the incident to Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and the county Board of Supervisors.

Robbins demanded that the county immediately secure the evidence in the case, particularly that first batch of urine.

On Tuesday, February 10, Robbins asked Judge Aceto to quickly hold a hearing to discuss either transferring Cozzolino to a different facility or freeing him from jail completely.

On Thursday, February 12, Aceto denied the attorney's request for an expedited hearing. Aceto's assistant told Cozzolino's attorney that the judge was "just going to let it run its course."

Wow. What a compassionate guy. I would hope that while Judge Aceto brushes up on his chipping game, he could take just a moment to imagine the hell he is allowing Jim Cozzolino to suffer.

I talked to Cozzolino several times last week. Each time, he was terrified by the thought of returning to jail after he finished work.

His voice was trembling. He questioned whether he could go on. But each time, he came to the same conclusion. He had to go on. He had to for his wife and four kids. He had to return to Joe's jail each night and try to avoid doing anything that could be manipulated into an incident. Beyond that, he realized he had no control.

"I feel like I'm walking into the lion's den each night," he said. "But I've got to do it. I've got to try to survive this."

His only protection is the growing number of fellow inmates who told me they will do anything they can to help him.

"We're probably going to get beat down for helping him," said one of his bunkmates in a phone conversation. "But you've got to help him. It's just the right thing to do because it's so clear these guys want this guy's ass bad."

Apparently, the justice system keeps all its moral compasses behind bars.

Because this bogus drug test incident is a slam-dunk for prosecutors. Yet the county attorney, state attorney general and U.S. attorney all are mute to Robbins' demand for an investigation.

So once again, the state's leaders appear willing to allow a thug and his henchmen to make a mockery of the justice system.

But in this case, they've also been forewarned. Now, if Jim Cozzolino is injured or killed by Arpaio's thugs, it will not be so easy for them to wash the blood of an innocent man from their hands.

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