Information Blockade

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

Maricopa County law enforcement violated the constitutional rights of this newspaper and its readers in October, going so far as to subpoena the identities of anyone who'd looked at New Times online in the past four years. When the paper's leaders revealed the apparent grand jury probe on our cover, they were arrested.

It wasn't much of a leap for Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas to go after a publication that's uncovered abuses in their offices for years. They'd already proven themselves adept at trampling the rights of prisoners, political enemies, and Mexican migrants.

Arpaio sought criminal prosecution of New Times for publishing his address in 2004 as part of our investigation of his commercial real estate transactions, and Thomas responded by appointing a special prosecutor who subpoenaed not only the records and e-mails of the paper's writers and editors, but information on the Internet-viewing habits of our readers.

Elliot Freirich, publisher of the West Valley View, sued the Sheriff's Office after his paper was blacklisted.
Morgan Bellinger
Elliot Freirich, publisher of the West Valley View, sued the Sheriff's Office after his paper was blacklisted.
Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla (foreground)
Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla (foreground)
Sheriff Joe Arpaio regularly retaliates against critics in the press.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio regularly retaliates against critics in the press.

Public outrage, sparked by the arrests of the paper's top executives, forced the county attorney to drop charges of violating grand jury secrecy against Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin. It also forced him to drop the Arpaio-inspired probe of the paper for supposedly violating an arcane law that makes it illegal to publish law officers' addresses in cyberspace but allows such publication in newspapers and magazines.

This week we examine what led up to Thomas' stunning mea culpa. We look not only at New Times' 14-year investigation of the sheriff's office, but also at what other media have published and broadcast on Arpaio — and what he's done to reporters or news outlets who've crossed him.

Nobody has clashed with the sheriff more than New Times. We've written about his cruel law-enforcement policies and his quest — at almost any cost — for flattering publicity. But much of the discord has been over his refusal to give up public records that could prove corruption. This publication has sued him three times over his flouting of legal requests for records.

The tiny West Valley View also has sued the sheriff. He refused to provide basic information — which he was giving to media he favors — to the paper. He even refused to tip it to a serial child predator's roaming the neighborhoods the paper serves. The View's sin: criticizing Arpaio's tactics over the years.

But it doesn't stop with New Times and the View. He's punished individual reporters at other media for bucking him. And he's refused to provide basic public-safety information to offending Spanish-language media — which critics suspect is part of his campaign against illegal immigrants.

This installment of our continuing series "Target Practice" goes below the surface to find out how we arrived at a place where the sheriff can punish media that displease him, and hide information that could make him look bad in violation of the Arizona public records law.


At the beginning of the 2006 school year, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's animosity toward a local newspaper wound up endangering elementary school children.

Arpaio and his public information office prevented the paper and the community it serves near Luke Air Force Base from learning about a child predator roaming the area.

"The Sheriff's Office should give information to the local paper — period," says Thomas Heck, who retired earlier this year after 19 years as superintendent of the Litchfield Park Elementary School District.

The would-be kidnapper struck on September 15, 2006, just a few blocks from the Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa. His target was a student walking home alone from Wigwam Creek Middle School. The guy hopped out of a compact car driven by another man and grabbed her, but she wrestled with him and got away.

The girl's school notified the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and sent a notice of the attack to parents. Lucky thing for the Wigwam kids and their families.

Because the Sheriff's Office sent no information about the incident to the West Valley View — which also is the neighborhood news source for parents and students at the area's two Catholic schools, a Lutheran school, and other non-district schools, like Litchfield Park's Crown Charter School.

The View, which publishes on the Internet and delivers print copies each Tuesday and Friday to 70,000 homes in the west-side communities of Avondale, Goodyear and Litchfield Park, has been cut off by the Sheriff's Office for years.

If the View's readers never learned of the prowling pervert, the Sheriff's Office couldn't have cared less.

A suspect fitting the description of the man in the first incident struck again five days later (again, the child got away), but the Sheriff's Office refused to tell the View, the only newspaper that covers such crime in the neighborhood. There's no evidence that the attempted abductions made the Arizona Republic or Valley broadcast media.

At the time, the MCSO was paying private attorney Dennis Wilenchik taxpayer dollars to defend it against a public records lawsuit brought by the View. County Attorney Andrew Thomas appointed Wilenchik to represent Arpaio. The paper wasn't demanding sensitive information regarding a criminal investigation, or even internal documents from the Sheriff's Office that might hurt Arpaio politically. All it wanted was the same timely press releases that most other Valley media receive each day so it could inform readers about problems such as child abductors in the neighborhood.

The newspaper, headed by publisher Elliot Freireich, has an adversarial history with the Sheriff's Office that began long before the lawsuit was filed in October 2005.

In February of that year, Arpaio was blasted in an editorial for demanding fingerprints from motorists in traffic stops. In July 2005, View staff photographer Owen Martin wrote an opinion piece bashing the MCSO for the heavy-handed way deputies treated the media at crime scenes, comparing Arpaio to Adolf Hitler and calling his deputies Nazis.

Perhaps sparked by these incidents, the MCSO claimed the View wasn't using the sheriff's press releases in a "fruitful" manner, and that fall Arpaio's office exacted revenge.

Captain Paul Chagolla, the sheriff's chief spokesman, quit sending the paper e-mailed press releases, telling its reporters that if they wanted them, they must ask for each one individually in a formal public records request, and then retrieve the belated information at the sheriff's downtown Phoenix location, 20 miles away.

Having to travel so far to retrieve the information posed an obvious problem for a short-staffed neighborhood paper, but, beyond that, it takes weeks or months for the MCSO to honor public records requests — if it honors them at all. Certain events are too pressing for the public to be kept in the dark.

The View sued and won a Superior Court ruling against Arpaio in June 2006. Judge Margaret Downie agreed that the law doesn't say the sheriff has to put the View on his e-mail list, but she ruled that he does have to honor the View's request to see all press releases on the same day they're released to the other media.

Downie called the sheriff's blockade of information to the View "petty."

True to form, the Sheriff's Office didn't give up. More money was shoveled to Wilenchik, who appealed the ruling, and the MCSO was still shutting out the paper by that September, when the predator incidents occurred.

The second attempted kidnapping involved a 10-year-old pupil at Avondale's Corte Sierra Elementary school. The girl saw the predator approaching and ran away.

Superintendent Heck wrote a second letter to parents in his district, and forwarded the letter to the View, which soon published a prominent article on both attacks. In it, a parent noted that perhaps the second attack wouldn't have taken place had the first one been well-publicized.

Soon after, Heck found out the Sheriff's Office had produced composite sketches of two suspects — the man who attempted to grab the children and the driver of the car — but refused to give them to the newspaper. So he paid a visit to Wigwam Creek Elementary, where the school resource officers are sheriff's deputies (the school is on unincorporated land). Sure enough, the deputies had the sketches.

Heck persuaded them to give him copies, and he delivered them to the View, which soon published the pictures along with another article.

"It seems to me that it's not good policy to withhold information from a local newspaper that affects children or the community," Heck says.

Arpaio and his public-information office apparently disagree.

When the View published an opinion column about the MCSO's refusal to divulge the predator incidents to the paper — under the headline, "Sheriff as dangerous as a child predator" — the Sheriff's private lawyer, Wilenchik, threatened to sue the paper for libel:

"Your newspaper continues to repeatedly publish articles and editorials mischaracterizing [Arpaio, the Sheriff's Office and the View's public-records lawsuit]," but "now you have gone too far."

Wilenchik asked the View's editors in his lengthy rant: "Have you no decency at all?"

In August, the sheriff lost his appeals court bid to continue freezing out the View. He's appealed again to the Arizona Supreme Court. If he loses there, the cost to taxpayers for defending against the suit will rise from about $50,000 to roughly $100,000 — because he'll have to pay not just Wilenchik's legal fees, but the View's.

What happened to the View is only one of the sheriff's most visible attacks on the media. His office kicks reporters who have offended him out of press conferences, tips off competitors to exclusive work of offending media, makes reporters working on critical stories view information from inside his jails, and subjects disliked journalists to harassment by his deputies.

Moving to the top of Arpaio's hit list in the last couple of years are media outlets whose audiences contain the illegal immigrants his and the County Attorney's offices are targeting in sweeping campaigns aimed at keeping Thomas and Arpaio on the minds of an anti-migrant voting public. As he did with the West Valley View, Arpaio denies vital public-safety information to blacklisted Spanish-language media.


Sheriff Joe Arpaio has never been fair about releasing public records that might show corruption or malfeasance in his office.

Arizona's public records law is pretty simple. It says: "Public records and other matters in the custody of any [government] officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours," and that any person may request to examine documents or obtain copies.

The only problem is, when a government bureaucrat blows off a citizen's request for records, his only recourse is to sue in Superior Court. And there's a risk: If you don't win, you have to pay your own legal fees. But there's no risk to the sheriff personally in stonewalling records requests, since the public pays his lawyers' bills.

And stonewall he does. It's predictable that an elected official would refuse to turn over records that might show severe problems in his office. But Arpaio has turned the public's rightful access to information into a tool to try to force positive press coverage, blackballing media that are nothing more than critical of him.

"They are punishing the public," says David Cuillier, chairperson of the Society of Professional Journalist's Freedom of Information committee. In denying information to members of the press, "They are saying 'no' to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people — the whole community."

Arpaio has no qualms with media that focus on his publicity stunts, or report only news that makes him look good to voters.

The iron curtain only comes down on places like New Times, the West Valley View and media outlets that even occasionally refuse to march in lockstep with the sheriff's publicity machine. Not only does he refuse to release public records in a timely ­manner, or at all, to New Times, he refuses to give media on his enemies list basic press releases — or even allow certain reporters access to his office.

Naturally, Arpaio wants to mold public opinion in his favor. But it's more than that; he hates criticism, and he tends to punish those who level it.

If keeping the public informed about a matter important to public safety gets in the way of one of his vendettas — like a child predator roaming the streets — so be it. Keeping the public in the dark is a small price to pay for keeping Joe Arpaio vindicated.

View publisher Elliot Freireich says he told the sheriff at a public meeting recently that his stonewalling of information to the View was imperiling public safety. Freireich says he told Arpaio he would be partially to blame if another youngster is attacked.

Part of Freireich's point was that when Arpaio punishes a paper he doesn't like, he punishes the very people who've supported him: average Valley residents.

Like the parents of schoolchildren in the Luke Air Force Base area (the child predator was never apprehended, by the way).

Arpaio boasts that he answers to "the people," that the public approves of his every tactic, which is why he keeps getting reelected. But when he withholds information from critical media, how much about his office do "the people" really know?

Media manipulation has been first on the sheriff's agenda since he was originally elected in 1992.

The way his office does it is by holding news conferences and issuing press releases about anything his staff thinks will make the boss look good. Arpaio is frequently atop parade floats, opening glitzy new restaurants and putting on so-called "Joe Shows" for the media — such as holding forth with TV reporters at M.D. Pruitt's Home Furnishings recently, the scene of protests by an immigrants-rights group angry over the store's complaining to police about day laborers in the area.

Certain fawning media in the Valley dutifully report Arpaio's every choreographed move.

But there's trouble when newspapers try to dig below the surface for information that might make him look bad. New Times has been at the forefront of this fight for years, suing the Sheriff to get records on money-related issues concerning his jails, his posses and his eyebrow-raising real estate investments. When his office can't simply deny records he doesn't want to turn over, it will delay their release as long as possible. Until, say, after an election.

It released records New Times had requested on a raid his deputies bungled in Ahwatukee — one where public opinion turned against him because his officers had incinerated a family's puppy — only after his 2004 re-election.

Arpaio brags that he has an "open-door policy" with reporters on controversial issues.

"When people call, especially the media, I answer their questions," the sheriff told Channel 12 recently. "I do not hide. I go face-to-face around the world when people come here. I am not going to turn down the media when they ask to talk to me."

The truth is, he's the most inaccessible prominent politician in the county — to media that take tough stands against him.

For example, he has denied New Times public information on how he came to invest $790,000 in cash in two commercial real estate properties over the years, and he's denied this publication complete information about what has happened to millions of dollars in commissary sales to jail inmates.

Arpaio pays his five-member public relations office, headed by Paul Chagolla and former TV reporter Lisa Allen MacPherson, $360,000 a year in taxpayer money to keep him favorably in the public eye.

Lately, Chagolla and MacPherson's team has spent lots of time writing laudatory statements about Arpaio's tactics against illegal immigrants, the current hot-button issue on which the sheriff is attempting to capitalize politically.

The team often heralds upcoming publicity stunts, like when it invited the media to come watch a "certified witch" cast a spell on Arpaio before this past Halloween. They've ballyhooed female chain gangs, pink underwear, pink handcuffs and the now-infamous Tent City.

They tried to get Los Angeles County to transfer Paris Hilton to Arpaio's lockup when she was incarcerated for a probation violation based on a drunk-driving conviction. They put on an "Inmate Idle" competition inside the Tent City jail.

By the nature of some of his antics, you might think the "toughest sheriff in America" has a sense of humor.

He doesn't. Though he can dish out plenty of abuse, when the tables are turned, a reporter who offends him might be treated to a visit from the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit (formerly known as the Threat Assessment squad).


On September 19, 2006, the same month the potential child rapist stalked his would-be victims in Avondale, Fabiola Montoya-Vallesteros slipped out of a window at her uncle's house in Buckeye.

The teenage girl wasn't running away — she was mentally disabled and soon got lost as she wandered around the rural desert in western Maricopa County. The Sheriff's Office, after receiving a call about the missing girl, put out a news bulletin to the media. Some media, that is.

"There was a big search. We didn't receive the news," said Lili Antonini, a reporter with La Onda, a Spanish-language radio station at 1190 AM.

Antonini says she learned of the search-and-rescue operation after someone told her they had heard about it on TV. Antonini knew the immediacy and long reach of radio might help the girl. Perhaps someone tuned in to La Onda would be driving around and see the child.

But the Sheriff's Office wouldn't give her any information, and that meant she couldn't give her listeners any.

Later that day, the girl was found safe about a mile from her relatives' house. But the situation bothered Antonini, who wondered what might have happened if Fabiola had remained lost.

It was just one example of the MCSO's sticking it to La Onda. There are many others, says the reporter, who has worked at the station for two years.

In September, visitors and some staff at the county's Fourth Avenue Jail were temporarily evacuated after someone phoned in a bomb threat. The Sheriff's Office sent a mass e-mail to everyone on his list of preferred media.

Again, Antonini heard about the evacuation second-hand. And too late to produce a timely report. This was just the type of breaking news Antonini thought was important to her listeners, especially if a real bomb had been in play. Any person visiting or walking near the jail would have wanted to know about the perilous situation.

Since he doesn't talk to New Times, it's impossible to get Sheriff Arpaio's perspective on why his office won't send alerts on bomb threats, missing children or other crucial news to La Onda. Antonini says she once sat down with sheriff's spokesman Chagolla to discuss why the MCSO has shut out her radio station.

"He wanted to know what our ratings were, what our listenership was," Antonini says. Chagolla didn't need to ask who the station's listenership was.

Antonini and station manager Laura Madrid speculate that a factor in blacklisting La Onda is its editorial stance. The women insist La Onda's news reports aren't biased, but the station does air pro-immigrant commentary.

There's no question that immigration is the top issue for people in Antonini's audience, many of whom are from south of the border. Talk shows on her station, including the youthful "El Break," often feature hosts and guests who rip Arpaio's attack on migrants.

It's unknown how many people living in Maricopa County speak only Spanish. One poll estimates that there are at least 300,000 Hispanics who speak the language some of the time at home. To those who speak only Spanish, stations like La Onda are essential, and the sheriff's critics believe his denying information to such media is part of his anti-immigrant strategy. They believe his office's stance is that people who are in the United States illegally have few rights, so why should they have the right to know about public safety issues?

A reporter for the Spanish-language newspaper La Voz, a free Phoenix-area weekly with a circulation of about 50,000, speculated that shutting out La Onda is meant to confuse and confound those here illegally, who otherwise might pick up on when, how often and in what areas the Sheriff's Office tends to conduct raids.

"Delaying the information can create widespread fear in the community," says the reporter.

La Voz wasn't notified of Arpaio's creation of the hotline for reporting suspected immigration violations, he says.

In fact, the Sheriff's Office leaves La Voz off its tip list frequently, the reporter says. Sure, La Voz finds out about the likes of Arpaio's "Inmate Idle" show, but gets far less of what favored English-language media get about enforcements against illegal aliens.

"When they [MCSO officials] get angry, sometimes they just don't send things," the reporter says.

Indeed, just as with English-language media, it seems that the Sheriff's Office's information blackouts have more to do with reporters offending the sheriff than with his anti-migrant policy.

Prensa Hispana publisher Manny Garcia, whose paper has a weekly circulation of 65,000, was receiving MCSO press releases until earlier this month. Garcia says he wrote a column in November criticizing the MCSO for arresting illegal immigrants during traffic stops, and the information stopped.

Univision, the top-rated TV station in Phoenix, doesn't do critical or investigative pieces about Arpaio, which is why it has had few problems with access to information from his office.

Arpaio is "always available to talk, especially with a TV station," says Mario Flores, the station's news director.

Univision recently scaled back coverage of Arpaio's busts of illegal aliens, Flores says.

When the station airs video of illegal aliens getting rounded up as Arpaio boasts of being the "toughest sheriff" in America, he says, viewers call to say they've had enough.

"In their mind," Flores says, "the sheriff's terrorizing them."


To help understand the local media's relationship with Joe Arpaio, New Times requested four months of e-mails between journalists and the sheriff's public relations staff.

In the e-mails, Arpaio spokesman Paul Chagolla makes it plain to reporters how the game works: You're either with us or against us.

Other media haven't suffered the same kind of access problems as New Times, the West Valley View, or some in the Spanish-language media — because they've caved in to the sheriff's attempts to control what they report. A theme of this story is that media outlets that resist pay a price.

When Channel 12 blew off the sheriff's "Inmate Idle" show, Arpaio's public-information staff retaliated by giving an unrelated exclusive story on boat safety the station was researching to a competing channel.

News of this incident comes secondhand, since the station was too afraid of Arpaio to talk to New Times.

Channel 12 was frightened because, if it annoys the sheriff too much, easy press-release stories will stop coming. Important crime news will be released late. Requests for interviews, incident reports, mug shots and jail interviews will be denied or delayed. The competition will get the upper hand.

In other words, broadcast media executives worry that, without the cooperation of Arpaio's office, ratings will suffer.

Information — and the power to withhold it — is the tool Arpaio uses to work over the media. It takes courage for a newsperson to put it on the line and speak honestly about his or her relationship with Arpaio or his flack Chagolla.

Turns out there are few journalists in the business here with that kind of nerve.

Ward Bushee, executive editor of the Arizona Republic, didn't return calls for this article.

Confirmation of the "Inmate Idle" incident between Channel 12 and Arpaio wasn't possible, because the station's news director, Mark Casey, wouldn't return calls.

The reason New Times quoted an anonymous La Voz reporter in this article was that Elvira Espinoza, the paper's editor, wouldn't make herself available, and the reporter was afraid that going on the record would affect his job security.

As for Espinoza, her office's excuse for her ducking out of an interview with New Times was that she had just had dental work and wouldn't be able to speak for two weeks. When New Times asked her secretary whether Espinoza could respond to e-mails, the woman said her editor was under heavy medication and would be out of touch.

Going on the record for this article won't help La Onda's rapport with Arpaio, or with Chagolla.

In fact, once La Onda reporter Antonini had a few days to think about the interview she and station manager Madrid did with New Times, she tried to take everything she had said off the record.

Then she contradicted the central theme of her interview.

"I feel that the information that Joe Arpaio does or does not provide this station does not hinder me as a reporter," she wrote in an e-mail.

The next day, she called on a speakerphone with Madrid and Mayra Nieves, the station's president of programming, and all but begged New Times not to use her comments.

And why did the journalists at La Onda try to take back what Antonini had said? They explained that they were extremely worried about how the sheriff would react.

He might send his deputies to the station or to its employees' homes, Madrid speculated. She laughed as she said this, but she wasn't kidding.

"We don't know what he'll do," Madrid said of the Sheriff.

The Arizona Republic has never been on the sheriff's enemies list.

The sheriff needs the state's biggest newspaper as much as it needs him. But even its reporters have occasionally run afoul of the MCSO. When reporter Ryan Kost asked whether all 20 people rounded up in a raid on street food vendors were illegal immigrants, Paul Chagolla went off on him.

In their e-mail exchange, he asks Kost why he's "set" on the 20 being illegal immigrants, though Kost's question did not imply such a stance. Chagolla tells Kost to find an earlier news brief he sent the Republic, and when Kost can't, the flack lashes out.

"Ryan, you are new to us, so I will be gentle but firm with you. I am not here to repeat my work — nor am I here to do your work. You and I do not have that work relationship yet. If you desire to be effective when working with me, you will need to learn from the Az Republic reporters that work with me personally what will make me bristle, like I am here."

But Chagolla will jump at the chance to do journalists' work for them if they are on his good side.

On August 25, Channel 15 assignment editor Michael Slim e-mailed Chagolla about where rapper DMX, who was being investigated for animal abuse, had been convicted previously.

Chagolla responded six minutes later: "You might try looking around in N.J," where it turned out DMX had another animal-cruelty beef.

While Arpaio and his people cater hugely to most TV stations, individual members of their staffs have been targeted for rebuke.

Gilbert Zermeno, an investigative producer for Channel 5, has a reputation for asking questions that reflect skepticism of the sheriff's policies.

E-mails between him and Chagolla show that one squabble apparently started when Zermeno, in requesting the price of some copies of public records, referred to Chagolla as "Paul," rather than his rank at the time of lieutenant. Chagolla insisted Zermeno treat him like a "complete stranger" and use the formal title.

"Since it is apparent that you intend on being discourteous with me, I intend to reward your behavior in the same manner," Chagolla wrote. "However, before I begin to act on your lack of manners, I will again ask that you address me by rank and last name."

Zermeno shot back, "Agreed, we do not have to be friends. My friends would never think of throwing me under the bus as many times as you have!"

Zermeno then accused Chagolla of blackballing him. He recalled how he once recorded Chagolla telling Arpaio, "I don't talk to [Zermeno], boss."

Chagolla admitted in the exchange that he made the comment, then explained: "Your own coworkers say that you are out to get the Sheriff and that your personal views have clouded your work product. Your own actions have mistreated and offended both [the sheriff], others and me."

Meanwhile, another Channel 5 employee, assignment editor Tamra Ingersoll, asks Chagolla in an e-mail if he's in the office — so she can bring him a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

"It's easier when you get along with them than when you don't," she lets on to New Times later.

Rob Koebel, fired from Channel 15 news, is the best example of what happens when the media gets too cozy with the Sheriff.

Koebel's rapport with Arpaio grew to include a $100 campaign contribution at a fund-raising dinner. Then Koebel was used to break the "news" that Arpaio's 2004 competitor for sheriff, Dan Saban, was under investigation by the MCSO for what turned out to be a bogus charge of raping his adoptive mother more than 30 years ago.

Koebel was dismissed by the station over the incident, but when he later had to serve a 12-day sentence for extreme DUI, he was allowed to do it at the Mesa jail, where Arpaio incarcerates celebrity inmates. Singer Glen Campbell was famously put inside what MCSO insiders call the "Mesa Hilton" after his DUI conviction.

Channel 12 didn't get the same friendly treatment from the Sheriff's Office as Koebel once enjoyed when reporter Joe Dana asked for salary information on the Sheriff's public relations team recently. Dana wanted to know what the public paid for the team, since Arpaio's office had exceeded its overtime budget by $1 million just four months into its fiscal year.

Perhaps still reeling from Channel 12's "Inmate Idle" snub earlier this year — for which the Sheriff's Office had already retaliated against the station once — Arpaio spokeswoman Lisa Alle MacPherson sent out a November 7 letter "to our associates in the local media."

In it, MacPherson claims that both New Times and Channel 12 file more requests for public records from the MCSO than any other media (not exactly shameful for news organizations, though she meant it as such). Then she got down to business:

"For your information. by the way, Channel 12 is planning a profile on this PIO office on one of their newscasts soon. We are not at all certain of their intentions so in the interest of fairness, here's how it breaks out . . . "

MacPherson then gives all the other Valley news organizations the scoop on the salaries. Except, of course, New Times, the West Valley View and certain Spanish-language media.

After New Times reporter John Dickerson requested an interview with Arpaio for an article for this series, Paul Chagolla phoned Dickerson back, thinking he still worked for the monthly Scottsdale Times.

Dickerson had left the Times in July, but he allowed Chagolla to rant about an article his former paper had published in November. The article, by Maribeth Conway, quoted Arpaio critics — like Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales — who say the sheriff should arrest fewer average illegal immigrants and more of the thousands of Valley fugitives with felony warrants he ignores.

"I'm afraid that because [of] what we saw in November with the Scottsdale Times, there is a big trust issue with us and [the] paper," Chagolla says.

Since the paper didn't publish a response to the article by the Sheriff's Office, Chagolla says, "we're not going to work with [it]."

Dickerson then tells him the Scottsdale Times did indeed publish the response in its December edition.

"It's not on [the] Web site in a prominent fashion," Chagolla retorts. "Even after providing the truthful facts to Ms. Conway, she just decided to go past it. So I'm afraid that the trust issue is there. I don't think we're gonna get the fairness we should be entitled to."

In fact, Conway did try to get "truthful facts" from Arpaio for her story. But in an October 14 e-mail reviewed by New Times, Chagolla tells Conway that Arpaio won't agree to an interview with her because he thinks the fugitive warrants issue is a "tired" subject.

Chagolla told Dickerson the sheriff wouldn't talk to him either.


Nobody has confronted the Sheriff's Office more than New Times.

The newspaper began taking critical looks at the Sheriff's policies the year he first took office, and hasn't stopped in 14 years. For its efforts, its reporters and columnists have been ignored, yelled at, blackballed, kicked out of press conferences, threatened with arrest, and — on October 18 — arrested.

The paper has taken Arpaio to court — which is the only remedy in Arizona when the government fails to comply with the state's public records law — three times.

Former New Times writer Tony Ortega, now editor of the Village Voice in New York, wrote a story in 1996 headlined, "There's No Accounting for Joe's Posses." As the title suggests, the article explained how finances were hidden within the MCSO posse program.

Arpaio had set about expanding the department's existing posse program after he was first elected. His volunteer posse soon swelled to about 3,000 volunteer members. Mounted posses were sent to patrol shopping mall parking lots. Members trolled for prostitutes along Van Buren Street in Phoenix. They helped in search-and-rescue operations. And the sheriff's media team always made sure their actions were well-covered in the press.

To raise funds, the 49 posses in the program sold pink boxer shorts similar to the ones Arpaio forced jail inmates to wear in yet another publicity stunt. Proceeds of the underwear sales were handled by the nonprofit Posse Foundation, and often involved collecting large amounts of cash. But after initially allowing New Times to inspect the Foundation's ledger — which showed the posses had raised $417,269 in four months — the organization clammed up.

The sheriff argued that the posses were independent, nonprofit groups not subject to public records law — despite evidence that huge sums of pink underwear money were routinely handled by on-duty MCSO employees, and that the Posse Foundation's address was that of the Sheriff's Office. Amazingly, in April 1998, Superior Court Judge Rebecca Albrecht ruled in favor of the sheriff.

All these years, and the public still can't find out exactly where millions of dollars in underwear money goes.

Former New Times staff writer John Dougherty first investigated Arpaio and dangerous jail conditions he's inspired in a November 1993 article. It was one of dozens of investigative articles that Dougherty wrote through the years about how sheriff runs his agency.

In 2004, Dougherty came to believe that Arpaio may have tapped into unsupervised slush funds inside his office, such as the posse money, to buy commercial real estate with cash. Dougherty found out that Arpaio had sunk about $790,000 in cash into three properties in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. Two questions arose immediately: Where did Arpaio, who makes about $143,000 a year in salary and federal pension, obtain the money for his investments, and why did he buy the properties in cash rather than mortgaging them to leverage his investment money more efficiently?

Dougherty eventually discovered that Arpaio may have purchased up to $2 million in real estate in recent years. But details of purchases have been kept secret. Arpaio had the records deleted at the County Recorder's Office using a law intended to keep the personal information of law enforcement officials out of public records for their safety. Oddly, Arpaio's home address hadn't been deleted from all the government records, as if the sheriff cared more about shielding his commercial investments from public scrutiny than keeping his home safe.

In a succeeding article, Dougherty published Arpaio's home address, and that information — as is the case with everything in the print editions of New Times — was reproduced on the paper's Web site.

New Times filed suit against the sheriff in July 2004, asking a judge to unseal the commercial property records. A month later, Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell turned down the request, and the records remain shrouded today.

The third lawsuit, filed in Superior Court on September 23, 2004, is still on appeal. It was brought to force Arpaio to respond to a dozen public records requests submitted during the 2004 election campaign, including on specific raids conducted by deputies, jail vending machine documents, and booking reports for the sheriff's Mesa substation, among other documents.

Dougherty wanted to find out whether jailed friends and relatives of high-dollar donors to Arpaio's political campaigns had been put up in the more upscale Mesa jail. Dougherty also wanted to investigate claims that money from the sale of food and toiletries at the jail was being misappropriated.

In a brief exchange outside the county's Fourth Avenue Jail in 2004, sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa Allen MacPherson told Dougherty the office would never turn over the records. When he reminded her of public records law, MacPherson replied: "So sue us!"

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.

Relieving me of any recording equipment allowed him to "maintain the integrity of the inspection process," he claimed.

We strolled past the booking area. Grim-looking prisoners were lined up on one side of a long, chest-high wall. Deputies in front of computer screens were on the other side.

As we walked through security checkpoints and a metal detector, the deputies looked confused. They wondered who Chagolla was and what he was doing there. He explained that he was from the MCSO public information office and that he was taking me inside to inspect public records. They seemed really perplexed then. I asked a jail staffer if she had ever seen the media inside the jail to inspect records. She laughed and said, "Never!"

Chagolla quickly said he has, in fact, taken media to jail to look at records. He mentioned that he once escorted East Valley Tribune reporter Mark Flatten into the jail to inspect documents.

On both occasions, the exercise was meant as ­intimidation.

Flatten had been working on what would be a series of stories about how, right after the 2004 election, supporters of Arpaio's opponent, Dan Saban, had been demoted, while those who had supported the sheriff's re-election campaign were given choice assignments. Flatten's January 2005 story focused on the shakeup of the SWAT team that put inexperienced commanders on the front lines. One of the sheriff's former spokesmen, Lieutenant Dave Trombi, for example, was made the SWAT leader despite having no prior experience in the area.

On December 16, 2004, a few weeks after the transfers occurred, two deputies were shot by an illegal immigrant the SWAT team was trying to pick up on a warrant in east Mesa. One of the deputies was Sean Pearce, son of Russell Pearce, the East Valley lawmaker who had once been Arpaio's chief deputy.

Pearce and the other wounded deputy, Lew Argetsinger, told Flatten they were concerned the SWAT changes had put deputies and the public in danger.

The Tribune reporter submitted public records requests with the Sheriff's Office for dispatch tapes that would prove the new commanders had made mistakes, verifying what sources were telling him. Flatten says Chagolla initially told him he could have the tapes, but that the Tribune would have to agree in advance to pay whatever the MCSO decided to charge for the work in producing them.

The two negotiated over the tapes for about three months. The Sheriff's Office finally agreed to release the two tapes for $25 each. But if Flatten wanted to hear them before he bought them, he would have to do so inside the jail, Chagolla insisted.

In my case, it was clear that Chagolla was miffed over me requesting his e-mails. And no wonder. As shown above, the e-mails had examples of how he coddles certain media and berates reporters who cross him or the sheriff.

E-mail evidence had already caught the Sheriff's Office in one apparent violation of the Appeals Court order: On October 12, Doug Matteson, a member of the Sheriff's PR staff, sent a press release to 50 different media e-mail addresses, detailing the Chase Field arrests of four rowdy fans at a Diamondbacks game.

The e-mail wasn't sent to media the Sheriff dislikes, including the View. Nor was it posted on the Sheriff's Web site or made available in any way to the View, as the court had demanded.

When I pointed this out to Chagolla, he claimed the e-mail was a "news brief" and not a press release, and therefore not covered by the court order. Yet the Sheriff's Office routinely posts on its Web site "news briefs," which are indistinguishable from what it labels "news releases."

Chagolla lashed out at me in an e-mail, "Before you lie, twist, spin or malign this organization again . . . know that I am prepared for the New Times slanderous comments. You and New Times will not blackmail this office."

Chagolla told me my media e-mailrecords were ready for viewing two months after I requested them. But he said that I, like other New Times reporters, wouldn't be allowed to see them at Arpaio's Wells Fargo Building headquarters.

Instead, I was to view the few hundred pages of records at the downtown Phoenix office of another of the sheriff's private lawyers, Michele Iafrate.

After I arrived there, I pulled out my digital camera and began taking digital photos of the records.

Iafrate's clerk, Cari Shehorn, told me to stop, saying the only way I could get copies was to pay 50 cents a page for them. She ordered me to leave when I kept taking pictures, adding that it might be considered trespassing if I stayed. I bantered with Shehorn, asking her for the legal justification for banning me from taking photos of public records.

Iafrate soon appeared. Her lips were tight in aggravation. "What's the problem here?" she barked.

I explained, and she said the law only allows reporters to inspect records, not to make their own copies. I knew officials at many other government agencies in the Valley, such as the Governor's Office, allowed the public to use digital cameras and handheld scanners to copy records. I questioned Iafrate's knowledge of the law, and left.

Eleven hours later, two plainclothes deputies from the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit showed up at my Tempe home. They said they wouldn't have to take me to jail as long as I signed a citation they had brought with them. The charge against me: disorderly conduct — making "unreasonable noise" at Iafrate's office. The offense carries a potential sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.

After that, the sheriff insisted that I inspect public records inside his jail.

My case is not as significant as the one involving potentially bogus subpoenas and the arrest of New Times executives Lacey and Larkin. But, unlike theirs, my case is still pending. I'm fighting the charge.

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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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