Boob's Tube

Here's how publicity hound Joe Arpaio used a TV station to try to destroy rival Dan Saban with a bogus rape claim

Wilenchik also has claimed that the airing of Ruby Norman's allegations on television helped Saban in terms of financial contributions and political endorsements, perhaps because of the sympathy that the woman's inflammatory (and unsubstantiated) charges produced.

For example, Wilenchik correctly points out that Senator John McCain announced his support of Saban after the exposé (and also after Pima County officials dumped the Norman case).

Because he filed the lawsuit, Saban has had to lay open his own mercurial, often troubled personal life to attack-dog barristers Wilenchik and Scripps Howard attorney David Bodney (an ex-New Times editor).

Dan Saban's campaign for sheriff was rocked by the bogus claim leaked  by Arpaio's office.
Jackie Mercandetti
Dan Saban's campaign for sheriff was rocked by the bogus claim leaked by Arpaio's office.
Details in the lawsuit show the extent to which Chief Deputy Hendershott (above) was willing to go to ensure that Saban didn't oust his financial benefactor, Arpaio.
photo courtesy of KTVK-TV Channel 3
Details in the lawsuit show the extent to which Chief Deputy Hendershott (above) was willing to go to ensure that Saban didn't oust his financial benefactor, Arpaio.

During that deposition, Saban revealed publicly for the first time that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with his adoptive mother when he was 15 or 16, in the early 1970s.

He said it had happened one time, while Norman's husband (also an adoptive parent) was at work on the graveyard shift at a copper mine up in Superior. Saban described how Norman allegedly had sexually "groomed" him for years before molesting him.

From the Arpaio defense team's point of view, Saban's admission proves somehow that Norman couldn't have been too off-base with her rape story.

"All the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office did," Dennis Wilenchik recently wrote, "was take a complaint generated by [Saban's] adoptive parent, after he publicly — as part of some bizarre campaign strategy — accused her of emotionally and physically abusing him as a child."

Wilenchik's "bizarre campaign strategy" comment suggests that Saban actually wanted Ruby Norman to come forward with her allegations. Actually, odds are better that Joe Arpaio would willingly spend a night as a prisoner at Tent City.

Joel Robbins summed up Saban's case by writing that the defendants "cooked up an 'investigation' on an alleged crime (older than the Watergate break-in), with a clear conflict of interest and despite rules prohibiting using public resources for an election campaign, ordered unwilling detectives to do their dirty work, shopped the story to a friendly newsman who had contributed to Arpaio's campaign, undertook an investigation to cover the reporter's tracks and allowed him to publish the report with impunity, refrained from speaking with witnesses identified by Norman as having called her a liar when she told them about these charges, erased potentially exculpatory tapes and lied about all of this in their disclosures and pleadings."

A New Times examination of thousands of pages of court documents (depositions, pleadings, supplemental exhibits) lends credence to much of Robbins' perspective.

Still, Saban's chances against Arpaio in court seem as uncertain as the outcome of his expected 2008 political rerun against the venerable (if not necessarily vulnerable) sheriff. For starters, Saban can't legitimately claim that Norman's allegations cost him the 2004 primary election, which Arpaio won with almost 56 percent of the vote. And despite all the mud flung at Saban during the 2004 campaign (it doesn't get much worse than being publicly accused by adoptive Mama of rape when you're trying to become Sheriff), the City of Buckeye still hired him in early 2005 as its police chief.

That alone will make it hard for Saban to prove he suffered financial damages resulting from the Arpaio camp's machinations, even if the affair has the distinct smell of political opportunism written all over it.

More important to the public than how Dan Saban fares in his litigation is the rare, often chilling look that his lawsuit has given into how far Joe Arpaio and his closest aides will go to stomp those who are seen as potential threats.

In this instance, Ruby Norman's e-mail accusing her adopted son, Saban, of rape presented Arpaio with a deliciously unexpected window of political opportunity.

And Chief Hendershott, the sheriff's loyal right-hand man, went for Dan Saban's jugular, and quickly.

At the start of 2004, Joe Arpaio was ready for what pundits figured would be an easy ride to a fourth term.

The ubiquitous sheriff's popularity ratings weren't as high as they'd been, though a solid majority continued to applaud his over-the-top tough-guy persona.

However, segments of the voting public seemed to be tiring of the relentless self-promotion that has marked the 74-year-old ex-narcotic agent's late-blooming gig as "America's Toughest Sheriff."

Also, some Republicans weren't about to forgive Arpaio for endorsing Democrat Janet Napolitano during her wafer-thin win over the GOP's Matt Salmon in 2002.

Other prospective voters seemed turned off by instances of brutality (by sheriff's personnel) inside Arpaio's sprawling county jail system — and equally disgusted by the spate of lawsuits, some of them successful to the tune of millions of dollars.

But no one would deny that the sheriff had amassed a skilled team of public-relations mavens that included sworn officers and hired hands with a single-minded mission: keep Arpaio's name forever in the "news" via photo-ops on anything and everything — ill-treated animals, a retro chain-gang routine or, more recently, utterances about the evils of illegal immigration.

A mostly pliant local media made their jobs undemanding.

Over at the Mesa Police Department, Commander Dan Saban had put in his retirement papers after 27 years in law enforcement.

Though he wasn't a fancy talker, Saban had won the respect of his peers during a career that included a stint as head of Mesa's SWAT team and, later, as chief of the Gang/Intelligence Unit.

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