Information Blockade

The sheriff's made a career of stonewalling critical media — the public's right to know be damned

Only after the lawsuit was filed did the MCSO release some of the records requested. On August 3, 2005, Judge Michael D. Jones ruled against New Times, saying a three- to five-month delay in turning over public records wasn't arbitrary and New Times' allegation of bad faith by the sheriff was "unsupported by anything other than argument and histrionics." New Times appealed.

The Court of Appeals heard arguments on the case 15 months ago, but still hasn't made a decision.

New Times writers began being blocked from coming to the sheriff's headquarters inside the Wells Fargo Building downtown after an exchange between Dougherty and Arpaio at his victory rally following the 2004 election.

Dougherty walked up to the sheriff inside the ­Phoenix Civic Plaza with a tape recorder and asked when the records he had requested months before would be ready.

Arpaio responded by yelling for guards to "get rid of this guy!" Deputies tossed Dougherty outside, threatening him with arrest. A Channel 3 cameraman recorded Arpaio telling a member of his Selective Enforcement Unit, "We ought to write that up as a threat."

After that, New Times staffers were told they aren't welcome at MCSO press conferences and that Dougherty and other reporters must use "runners" to pick up information from the sheriff's downtown office.

And the sheriff enforced the ban in September 2006, when Chagolla told New Times reporter Sarah Fenske that she couldn't attend a press conference (to announce a 25-count indictment against county School Superintendent Sandra Dowling) at the downtown headquarters.

New Times columnist Stephen Lemons went to the same press conference and was ordered by Chagolla to leave.

Then, in October 2007, Arpaio's rage at New Times took an uglier turn.

Three years ago, Arpaio had tried to get County Attorney Andrew Thomas to charge New Times with a felony for publishing his home address on the Internet as part of Dougherty's investigation of his personal real estate.

The state statute on which the felony is based has a shaky foundation. It allows the publication of law officers' addresses everywhere but on the Internet. Even then, the law only prohibits Internet publication if the person posting the information knows it would cause an "imminent and serious threat" to the law officer.

New Times had gotten the information that wound up on its Web site from government Internet sites, including those of the County Recorder, the county Elections Department and the Arizona Corporation Commission.

In early 2005, Thomas, citing a conflict of interest because he had been the subject of criticism from New Times, passed Arpaio's complaint to Pinal County for consideration. The alleged felony languished in that office for nearly two years until Pinal County kicked the complaint back to Thomas.

Thomas then assigned his friend and former boss Dennis Wilenchik as special prosecutor in the case, and Wilenchik issued broad subpoenas against New Times that sought the notes and e-mails of its reporters and editors.

Most alarmingly, the subpoenas also sought the personal data of every person who had looked at the paper's Web site in the last four years.

New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, outraged by the assault on readers' Internet-viewing habits, published details of the subpoenas in the paper's October 18 edition ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution").

With direction from Wilenchik's office, the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit arrested Lacey and Larkin that night. Larkin was never booked into jail. But Lacey spent the night behind bars before he was released on bail before dawn the next day. He was met outside the jail by a gaggle of Valley media, and the story immediately went national.

The next day, Thomas, in a stunning mea culpa, announced the situation had gone too far, and that he was dropping all charges against the paper's owners and canceling the investigation of New Times for publishing Arpaio's home address on the Internet. He also fired Wilenchik as special prosecutor in criminal matters for his office, though not as a civil litigator for the county.

It turned out that in issuing the unprecedented demand for the information from the newspaper and its readers, Wilenchik had flouted the Constitution as well as normal legal checks and balances.

No grand jury investigating the matter ever existed, and Wilenchik never notified the court's presiding judge of the subpoenas, as required by law.


On the night Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested, a third New Times staff member was singled out by the Sheriff's Office for an evening visit at his home: me.

After the Court of Appeals ruled against Arpaio in the West Valley View case in August, I asked to be placed on the MCSO e-mail list. Predictably, I was denied, so I requested everything Arpaio's office had sent to the media or received from it via e-mail over the summer and early fall.

I wanted to see the e-mails to verify that the Sheriff's Office was complying with the Appeals Court order, and to find out how the office communicated with the media.

I ended up viewing those e-mails inside the Fourth Avenue Jail.

On October 23, Paul Chagolla escorted me into the sally port of the jail, which is basically a small parking lot enclosed on either side by gigantic steel doors. Chagolla asked me to put all of my electronic gadgets — my digital camera, phone and voice recorder — and any writing pens inside a lockbox outside the first of several high-security doors we walked through.

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My Voice Nation Help
7 comments
Dee
Dee

I wouldn't report stuff to you either. You just grease the axels of law brekers and aid and abet them through your little news rag.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

>>Comment by Sandra Rennie.

Problem is Sandra, Thomas and Arpaio sleep together and the other Politicians and the AG are as spineless as it gets. Don't count on much to happen. The best way to get rid of the slimeballs is voting them out of office in November 2008.

Sandra Rennie
Sandra Rennie

This is the feelings of a group of concerned citizens; "Please, "New Times", let us know what we can do to help stop this criminal, as in FELONY ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFFICE, give us any information that will help us get these felons charged with the crimes that they have committed and punished for this BLATANT ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFICE. This should be handled in a way as to make an example of them so that this will never happen agein. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior, it is absolutely unacceptable, and a breach of the public's trust. If you could be so kind as to head us off in the right direction, we will be forever indebted to you.

Peggy
Peggy

Unbelievable!!! Can't we do anything besides vote? I can't afford to come to Phoenix to circulate petitions but mail me some and I'll work on it here.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Ray,Great job, you told it like it is, factual, truthful and a great piece of work.Love you all at the New Times and I thank GOD that someone in Maricopa County is not affraid to tell the truth about these Nazi's called Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.Watch your back brother, I can say from first hand experience, these guys are worst than the snakes that crawl below the earth.You're brother in the fight to expose these dirt bags all the way to the end.Jim Cozzolino

Coz
Coz

"Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla"

Now this is a guy that is a real disgrace to humanity and life in general.

Officer Scagnetti
Officer Scagnetti

Ladies and gentlemen, part 8 of our ongoing 42 week consecutive coverage of... a story about us. (cough)

 
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