In the Crosshairs

County lawmen boffing hookers isn't Sheriff Joe's only problem. Fed up with his thuggery, Arpaio's own political party has targeted him for defeat

And last week, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley delivered a body slam to Arpaio's credibility when he refused to prosecute nearly 60 women arrested last winter in a highly publicized sheriff's office prostitution sting.

This time, it was an Arpaio publicity stunt gone bad.

Because not only did the TV cameras roll when the arrests were made (the sheriff made sure the daily media were tipped off), but they also rolled when Arpaio was humiliated by Romley, also a Republican, who declined to prosecute the cases because Arpaio's deputies and posse members "deviated from standard investigative practices" by getting naked and engaging in sexual relations with the alleged whores.

Former television reporter Lisa Allen MacPherson 
expertly crafts Arpaio's tough-guy image to a fawning 
media.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Former television reporter Lisa Allen MacPherson expertly crafts Arpaio's tough-guy image to a fawning media.
Joe Arpaio: America's oldest sheriff?
Jackie Mercandetti
Joe Arpaio: America's oldest sheriff?

Who would have thought that Sheriff Joe would be in such a mess?

A few short months ago, high-level politicos considered him unbeatable. Now, with a citizens' group of enraged mothers dogging his every step and his own political party and law enforcement brethren turning against him, the 72-year-old is fighting for his political life.


The James Saville case was classic Joe Arpaio -- meant to add to the legend of Arpaio's being what his publicity machine calls "the toughest sheriff in America."

It was all about pitching the public that the sheriff's office doesn't coddle criminals.

It was a circus side show.

Hardly the Dirty Harry type he would have the uninitiated believe -- the only gun you'll ever see him wearing is the one on his favorite tie clasp -- Joe Arpaio is an elected lawman who spends practically all his time huckstering.

He might call it campaigning. He's at it seven days a week, running from speeches to high school students and women's groups to judging chili contests to riding in the Ostrich Festival parade to attending a May 2002 Mother's Day event with then-Democratic gubernatorial contender Janet Napolitano.

Since late December 2000, Arpaio was scheduled to appear in 38 parades, from Wickenburg to Chandler to downtown Phoenix. But what Arpaio really loves to do is give speeches (327), conduct scheduled media interviews (200) and attend luncheons and dinners (216).

"Since the day I got elected, I've been giving speeches," Arpaio says in an interview with New Times. "I'm going constantly. Everybody who wants me to talk, I talk. I feel I'm the elected sheriff. I deserve to go directly to the people. You can't rely on the press, the media, to tell the truth."

Arpaio also knows there is tremendous political payback from his relentless schmoozing.

"My name ID is like 99 percent," he brags. "That isn't just because they see me on television. I'm out there talking to people constantly."

More than 90 percent of the events appearing in his daily duty calendar are related to stoking his public image. His only regular work-related duties, according to the calendar, are two weekly staff meetings and speaking to classes of graduating detention officers and deputies.

For a cop who loves to brag about his gun battles with drug dealers in Turkey, South America and Washington, D.C., during his 32 years with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Arpaio spends no time at the firing range practicing his gun-slinging skills.

He's too busy with public functions such as judging the Maricopa County Fair's celebrity goat-milking contest.

One police activity that is high on his to-do list is swearing in new sheriff's office posse members, who occasionally include political figures such as Maricopa County Supervisor Max Wilson.

During the height of Arpaio's popularity, membership in his posse was considered a useful campaign tool by politicians who wanted to prove to voters that they, too, were tough on crime.

But once they got their posse membership card, they became beholden to Arpaio, who tends to revoke the posse membership of anybody who crosses him.

The county has more than 3,200 posse volunteers involved in a wide range of activities: search-and-rescue operations, animal-abuse calls and shopping-mall patrols during Christmas season. Some are certified to carry a weapon and ride with deputies in patrol cars as a second officer.

Widely ridiculed as a band of mean-spirited Barney Fifes, Arpaio's posse has been a continuing source of controversy.

Former executive posse commander Marvin Weide was drawn into one of the nation's biggest marijuana busts in 1997 after undercover Department of Public Safety agents discovered he had unwittingly leased a warehouse to drug dealers.

Despite Weide's lofty title and police training, he apparently had no idea that his warehouse was ground zero for one of the largest marijuana-smuggling operations in the United States.

At the same time the smugglers were moving thousands of pounds of pot through the North 40th Street warehouse over a 21-month period, the executive posse commander was using another part of the same building as a posse operations base -- not to mention as Arpaio's reelection campaign center.

The pot dealers later told federal agents that they selected Weide's warehouse because they believed the marijuana would be secure from rival drug operations because posse members conveniently parked marked patrol vehicles in the parking lot.

To say that Weide, Arpaio and the posse became the laughingstock of the state Department of Public Safety, et al., over that doozie is, naturally, an understatement.

Arpaio's posse members also played a prominent role in the much-maligned prostitution sting that County Attorney Romley has refused to prosecute because the Barneys got naked and engaged in sexual activities during an undercover effort to nab the reputed ladies of the evening.

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2 comments
Enemies List needs updating
Enemies List needs updating

It's time to get rid of "elected" officials as Sheriff and County Attorney. They have politicized law enforcement and the justice system putting all at risk to be used as their political pawns.

Need legislation for oversight and accountability of these offices. Hire professionals with higher standards then the minimal, inadequate standards that exist for these positions.

The people have had enough of abuse of power by thomas and arpaio!

 
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