Joe Arpaio’s men fail to justify criminally charging New Times reporter Ray Stern in a public records dispute

When I read our lawyer's interviews with the deputies in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's most notorious division, I had one question: Who staged this piece of theater?

You too can read, for the first time, excerpts of deposition statements from Arpaio's leaders and foot soldiers. The chiefs and deputies drift between truculence, amnesia, and chivalry. The dialogue is worthy of David Mamet.

But that's just my take (and I have an obvious conflict of interest). You can decide for yourself whether the sheriff's men sound scripted.

The deputies from the Selective Enforcement Unit were deposed because County Attorney Andrew Thomas rolled over and allowed Sheriff Joe Arpaio to file criminal charges against New Times journalist Ray Stern.

Our writer had started to photograph public records in the office of Michele Iafrate, the lawyer who filters Arpaio's paperwork for media scrutiny.

Iafrate forbade Stern from copying the public documents with his camera. When he questioned her decision, he was evicted from the office.

Stern's cheek triggered yet another assault by county law enforcement on Arizona's public records statute.

Following Iafrate's power play over the public records, Arpaio's elite, plainclothes deputies appeared at Stern's home about 8 that night and presented him with a criminal complaint for disorderly conduct. He was accused of making unreasonable noise. They threatened that he would be jailed if he did not sign the papers.

In addition to the remarkable transcripts from Arpaio's deputies, we also present for your inspection a surprise witness. Originally a critical part of the sheriff's case against Stern, this woman actually confirms the reporter's claim that he was civil throughout the impasse in Iafrate's office.

Furthermore, the surprise witness claims that other prosecution witnesses were coerced into giving testimony against Stern.

The plot contains one other startling twist: Arpaio's own attorney will undermine the sheriff's case.


Ray Stern was home with his two young children on October 18 when the deputies knocked. Their residence is not the usual crime scene. His wife, who smokes neither crack nor meth, and has no apparent tattoos, was absent that evening to teach her class, "Mothers Who Write."

Though charged with a criminal offense, Stern was not led off to jail. He was allowed to sign the complaint. Perhaps the presence of a developmentally disabled youngster and her 6-year-old sister induced some level of restraint. Or, perhaps, the deputies were in a hurry and did not wish to waste time placing the kids with Child Protective Services over a misdemeanor.

After the deputies' departure, they rushed off to Jim Larkin's home.

Larkin, this newspaper's CEO, and I were arrested and hauled off to jail that night for revealing in a New Times cover story the existence of an illegal grand jury that had subpoenaed the notes of our reporters as well as the identity of readers who had viewed New Times online. Our cover story ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution") hit the streets early that morning, October 18.

The same morning our story appeared, Stern had, coincidentally, pointed out to attorney Iafrate that Arizona's public records law contains no prohibition against photographing public records. He did not curse. He did not yell. He did not threaten anyone. His crime was temerity and impertinence. He stands accused of making unreasonable noise.

Emerging from jail, I found the news media in a frenzy and the public in an uproar. Later that day, County Attorney Andrew Thomas hastily called a press conference, killed the illegal grand jury, fired the lawyer behind the grand jury, and dropped all charges against Larkin and myself.

Thomas, however, quietly allowed the criminal proceedings against Stern to proceed. Claiming a conflict of interest, the county attorney kicked the prosecution over to the City of Phoenix, which recently booted the case to the City of Mesa. Because he had not been taken to jail — only cited — Stern was off the public's radar screen.

While the subsequent lawsuit against county authorities (filed because of our arrest) received extensive attention, Stern's court case remained invisible.


Deputy Chief Sheriff Scott Freeman oversees the Special Investigations Division, wherein reside the men who serve in the department's Selective Enforcement Unit.

These few men secure the safety of Arpaio, self-proclaimed "America's toughest sheriff." They protect Arpaio from bombs, bullets, knives, blunt instruments, shrapnel, improvised explosive devices, assassinations, and the dark thoughts and deeds of the tens of thousands of hombres forced to wear pink underwear while incarcerated in a county jail or tent.

The two men who showed up on Stern's porch on October 18 were from the Selective Enforcement Unit.

When New Times lawyer Steve Suskin questioned Chief Freeman on May 29 about Stern's citation, the chief, despite 25 years of service, remembered not a single thing.

He did not remember whether the reporter was from a television station. Or whether the reporter had a gun. Or whether the reporter was from New Times. Or whether the reporter was Ray Stern. He did not remember whether he'd spoken to attorney Michele Iafrate about a disorderly conduct complaint. He did not remember who on the 19th floor — where the sheriff's command staff has offices — might have told him about the alleged crime.

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33 comments
Jeff Turner
Jeff Turner

You guys are doing a great job reporting government corruption. Certainly (and unfortunately) there seems to be job security in that field. But who's job is it to police the police, or to prosecute the prosecutor. Whoever it is, they don't seem to be doing there job to well.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Thanks, "Native Arizonan since 1956". However, the items by me which were deleted consisted of some speculations about the identity, etc., of Equity & Friends, and as such were in fact off-topic; furthermore, once Equity's blather was deleted, my response referencing details of it would merely be confusing to anyone recently arrived on the scene. So, while I appreciate your kind words of support, in this instance I don't mind: I'm just glad to see the spam disappear.

E.T. Arnold Jr.
E.T. Arnold Jr.

I smell a movie in the making. What better time for a story based on government lies and abuse of the people? I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona (South Mountain area) and went to tempe schools (8 years at Kyrene)so, I know Maricopa county. As a teenager, 13 years old, freshman year at McKlintock, I ran away from home and was caught and held at the Durango juvenile detention center. I hid in the projection box in an attempt to escape. When they found me, I was repeatedly kicked by an officer wearing pointed cowboy boots. I understand from a brother that worked at a juvenile prison that the juveniles are still beaten and abused. Arizona must be proud. My problem at home was my stepdad was a full blown alcoholic. He was the sole survivor of a B-29 shot down over Tokyo in WWII. I saw him do things I can't relate here. I was a good kid, asked to address the graduation ceremonies at Kyrene a year earlier. I was abused at the hands of the staff of the Durango facility. It appears the county officials believe they can abuse people in perpetuity, now acting like Nazi SS thugs. If I show up with my camera, will I get jailed and beaten?

Native Arizonan since 1956
Native Arizonan since 1956

I appreciate the deletion of comments from Equity Court Services. Their comments are usually off-topic and self promotional in nature.However, the deletion of comments from Emil Pulsifer leave me puzzled. This is a contributor who is usually on target regarding the topic and often quite well reasoned, not to mention civil in nature, unlike some contributors.Please exercise great judiciousness before deleting comments. Thanks

Dan
Dan

Is this the same Ray Stern who was fired from The East Valley Tribune and couldn't get a job with anyone but the NewTimes?

Bye Bye Phil!
Bye Bye Phil!

This comment was deleted for being off topic.

Coz
Coz

Thank you !

>>This comment was deleted for being off topic.Comment by Equity Court Services from Phoenix on Aug 29th, 2008, 10:17 am

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Would someone PLEASE inform the code-monkeys at Phoenix New Times that the title of the article, as shown on the home page, now reads: "Arpaio Can?t Justify Charging Ray Stern".

Note the substitution of a QUESTION MARK where an apostrophe should be.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

This comment was deleted for being off topic.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

This comment was deleted for being off topic.

Keith Hardy
Keith Hardy

Take these corrupt bastards down. Sherriff Joe is a complete scumbag and bully. Follow his money trail with his property in Fountain Hills and his involvement with the gaming. Expose this bastard and lets put him behind bars in pink underwear where he belongs.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Re: Comment nos. 11 and 14

Ahm taen out ma wee pen knife, Johnny...

E.T. Arnold Jr.
E.T. Arnold Jr.

Is there any doubt why the "Extra-terrestrials" that placed man on this earth (we are the offspring and siblings of the ET's) are currently on their way to this planet to eradicate the filth in human government? In fact, they are going to annhilate all human forms of government and their evil human cogs and establish a perfect government for mankind everywhere. First, after crushing the vermin ruining the earth and causing the suffering of it's inhabitants, the ET government will eradicate all forms of disese and sickness! The erath's weather will be brought under control and the mountains will overflow with an overabundance of healthful, healing produce. PEACE will be found everywhere while evildoers and their foul deeds will be not be found anywhere! Mankind will be put back on it's original path of learning and exploration as we devote all our energy to the benefit of our fellow man and our ET family. Juast as space has no bounds or end, so will the future of man be filled with wondrous things. We will enjoy these things to time indefinite as we enjoy one of the greatest benefits from the ET's, the end of the great enemy death. Yes, one of the lasting benefits the ET government will bestow upon us is eternal life...eternal life that we may see and rejoice in the good deeds of our own hand! Now, who in their right mind would not welcome the ETs when they arrive? Obviously, the vermin for which the ETs hold a death warrant! The ETs placed their law code in the physical make-up of the human race. We call it our conscience. It looks like the vermin that have broken the laws of the ETs are going to be rounded up shortly and put to the fire of destruction! Now that I have let the cat out of the bag, is the sheriff going to come and arrest me? I always got a kick out of the tough sheriff but, IF he is violating the constitution my father and uncles died to defend, then he is the enemy just like Hitler, PolPot, Joe Stalin, and all the vile murdering vermin we had to eradicate. You cannot swear to uphold the constitution in the executution of your duties for which you are taking taxpayor dollars for your livelihood then violate the constitution and your oath as it suits you. NO SIR! You dishonor all those that have fought and died for the very thing you now violate. If its all true, put him in his pink underwear, and feed him baloney and no coffee. Another example of how absolute power corrupts...IF its all true...and it sure looks like is! Of course, if Joe's laundry is prefectly clean, why not show it to the world just like the pink underwear he is so famous for? Why all the dirty tricks if you have nothing to hide Joe?

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Great article, Mr. Lacey. First rate. Thanks especially for the revelation that Uncle Joe & Friends attempt to intimidate political and other opponents by (a) determining if they have any incarcerated friends or relatives, and (b) threatening to expose them to harm in Arpaio's gang-infested jails. MCSO doesn't, of course, have to make explicit threats: as in the example given, its agents can simply make pointed observations and let the imaginations of the victims do the rest. Let's hope that the past actions of these thugs and their mouthpieces catch up with them.

By the way, please delete the long, long spam posting (Comment #11 by Equity Court Services). Surely you understand that it's a non-starter? By the time the readers puzzle their way through it, they're exhausted and have forgotten about both the article and the comments actually germane to it. Please don't allow loons (whether genuine or simulated) to discourage reader feedback by turning the comment sections into a vast wasteland of irrelevant nonsense. Criticism or even abuse is one thing, provided it's on topic, but this is something else entirely. (The inclusion of a few random references to the article's contents is merely camouflage -- the Trojan Horse by which he hopes his irrelevant junk-bomb can be smuggled in without deletion.)

abogada987
abogada987

to Who Cares from Yuma: I know lots of good folks from Yuma who don't suffer from your indifference to responisve, accountable government.

Keep up the good work Stern and Lacey.

gizzard
gizzard

Another lawsuit heading your way Arpaio. Nice job on the Dowling case also, more tax dollars wasted and your stupidity still shines on!

Dan Farrell Davis
Dan Farrell Davis

Mr. Lacey -- Just as New Times was way ahead of criminal proceedings against Charles Keating, we look forward to the day that Sheriff Arpaio and this cronies will get their own charges, convictions and jail time.

Mr. Lacey, you are a true hero.

Steve
Steve

The bully and the perpetual victim are at it again. Big deal. This was a waste of column space.

Who Cares
Who Cares

I want the 15 minutes of my life back it took to read this stupid article. Both sides sound like children squabbling over nothing. One acts like a bully, the other a perpetual victim who whines all the time.

Coz
Coz

I'm looking forward to the day they all go to jail so they can suffer the same pain, torture and harassment they have so happily placed done onto others.

Native Arizonan since 1956
Native Arizonan since 1956

Arpaio and Thomas are digging their own graves (figuratively). Their careers will be remembered for their waste, their arrogance and their lack of any meaningful contribution to society. I look forward to the day that both are unemployed.

kathleen
kathleen

Isn't it time to have our actions speak louder than all of Thomas and Arpaio's rhetoric. VOTE them out. Saban and Richard for Sheriff and County Attorney. Their actions (Thomas and Arpaio)speak so loudly who can possibly hear what they have to say.

Coz
Coz

Amazing....When do these Assholes, Low life Dirtbags, Scum Buckets, Nim Rods....Arpaio, his Monkey's, Thomas and the rest of these Bigger Than Life Scumbags go to jail themselves ?

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

All I see is thousands of dollars of wasted taxpayers money and abuse of power by the sheriff's office. Once again, all this time, money and resources would be better spent on the violent criminals rather than used to retaliate against their perceived enemies -- the press. Thank you New Times for keeping the public informed of the facts and details, while the other media cover what's fed to them by the sheriff and county attorney's offices.

skepticguy
skepticguy

@Dan yep. the same ray stern who now works for his wife at a paper known for its fabrications.

 
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