As civil rights leader Salvador Reza stood in stripes before a night court judge around 3:30 a.m. this morning at the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix, the county prosecutor made an eye-popping admission.
"This is really my review," he stated cautiously of a statement from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office before him. "I did not see that this rose to the level of probable cause."
Reza's attorney Robert Pastor immediately pounced.
"Your honor," said Pastor, "I just heard the prosecutor tell the court that there's not enough evidence here to suggest that Mr. Reza committed a crime. I ask that the charge be dismissed and he be released immediately."
Of Reza's bogus charge for "obstructing a judicial proceeding," the judge herself seemed skeptical.
"I do not have enough information to find probable cause in this matter, sir," she told the county attorney.
She declined to dismiss the charge, but she released Reza on his own recognizance and set his next court date for August 18.
Reza, leader of the organization Puente, had been arrested late Friday afternoon after watching a band of protesters engage in civil disobedience by blocking Sheriff Joe Arpaio's command post for the MCSO's latest anti-immigrant sweep. The post was located near 35th Avenue and Lower Buckeye, close to the Lower Buckeye Jail. Reza was across the street in an unpaved parking lot.
Though Reza was not participating in civil disobedience that day, a pack of aggro sheriff's deputies ran across 35th Avenue and arrested him. Arpaio, MCSO Chief Brian Sands, and MCSO flack Brian Lee have all been videotaped stating that the arrest was because Reza had violated his order of release after he'd been let go on bond the night before for taking part in civil disobedience on July 29. This, as part of a "national day of non-compliance" to SB 1070.
After court was adjourned with Reza's O.R., a crowd of about sixty supporters, who had crammed into a viewing room to watch the proceedings from a TV monitor, erupted into applause. They then filed outside to wait another two hours-plus before Reza and the others arrested that day were set free.
The main entrance to the Fourth Avenue Jail had turned into an all-night block party for Reza supporters, with speakers blaring cumbia and protesters dancing in the middle of the street, sometimes in the pouring rain. At one point the crowd of Reza supporters numbered more than 100, and included numerous members of Unitarian Universalist Churches (referred to as "UUs") from across the country, who were in town to protest SB 1070 going into effect.
Sheriff's deputies and detention officers looked on from the roof, and from the corners of the building, but did nothing to stop the crowd. I asked one deputy why he and his compadres were seemingly okay with the revelry.
He simply shrugged and said, "It's a free country."
Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, was present in a parking lot with Reza as sheriff's deputies arrested the longtime anti-Arpaio activist. He said NDLON regarded Reza as a political prisoner, and that in the first two hours of putting up an online petition to "Free Sal Reza," NDLON had garnered 900 signers-on.
"They arrested him for no reason," he told me, as we all awaited Reza's release. "He was doing nothing. They just took him. To me it's clear that it's retaliation, because he's been highly critical of the sheriff. They [Arpaio and his staff] don't like him. They hate him."
Indeed, Reza has led several massive marches aimed directly at ending Arpaio's rule, as well as daily protests outside the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Phoenix, where Arpaio keeps two floors of pricey executive offices. Reza's Wells Fargo campaign ended with the bank asking Arpaio to leave, forcing the county to find another building for the MCSO, which Arpaio will likely move into sometime in 2011.
When Reza finally emerged from jail Saturday morning, the sun was up, and his fellow activists were overjoyed to see him.
Reza said he was shocked by the arrest, which came without warning, just as he was about to leave for an interview.
"When I saw them coming, I thought they were coming for the people in the street," he explained. "But then they just passed them and went for me."
Regarding who actually ordered his arrest, Reza believes it was MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands, one of Arpaio's top henchmen, a man who looks like he would have felt right at home in the KGB.
"It was Sands," Reza contended. "Sands was in command."
MSCO thugs hustled a cuffed Reza to a van, where he remained for hours by himself. At one point, the MCSO opened up the van to display Reza to photographers and journalists like a captured prisoner of war.
"If they can do this to me," he told the reporters present before refusing interviews, "what do you expect they can do to anybody else."
Reza was transported to Fourth Avenue, booked, and forced to change into county stripes. As he was the night before, he was placed in solitary confinement. Reza said he was allowed no phone call, and there was no phone in the cell. He also stated that deputies never read him his Miranda rights.
I asked if he thought the MCSO was trying to break him.
"I think it's going to be a long time before they break me," he laughed. "I was ready to go eighteen days...that's when the court date is."
I wondered if he planned to sue the MCSO, as so many of Arpaio's victims have done, earning massive payouts from county coffers. Reza didn't say yea or nay.
"I just wish the [ U.S. Department of Justice] would get on the ball and do something about it," he replied. "I don't know what else they want...It's very clear."
The DOJ has been investigating Arpaio for more than a year now for civil rights violations. There's also a federal grand jury in Phoenix looking into Arpaio and the MCSO for criminal abuse of power.
Concerning the detention officers, Reza said he actually got along with some this time.
"Some of them are nice," he said. "Some of them, they basically don't like Arpaio."
This sentiment was echoed to some degree by Sarahi Uribe, a Yale graduate and organizer with NDLON, who'd been one of the protesters blocking sheriff's patrol cars from leaving for the sweep. She, too, was released on her own recognizance by the judge.
"One of the clerks or one of the officers inside slapped a message on the window [of the cell] that said, `By the way, what you guys are doing is awesome,' and walked away," Uribe told me.
Still, she was interrogated repeatedly by 287(g) officers in the jail, even though she's an American citizen. This, likely because she's not white and she initially refused to tell them her country of origin.
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She also described "disgusting" conditions in the holding cell where she was kept with several other women. Uribe said women were sleeping on a floor littered with feces. Like Reza, she was never Mirandized.
Before he headed out to get some much needed rest, I asked Reza if he had any words for Sheriff Arpaio.
"Yeah," he said. "Come back to civilization."
Fat chance of that. They don't call it "Mari-Kafka County" for nothin'. For those of you reading who loathe Reza because of his politics, keep this in mind: There was no probable cause for his arrest. And if you want Arizona to resemble part of America, rather than a Third World junta, you should denounce his detention just as if you were one of his supporters.