Arpaio Awaits Justice as Election Looms
Editor's note: Michael Lacey is the former co-owner of Village Voice Media. He and his partner sold VVM to senior management registered as Voice Media Group. This is his first freelance article for New Times.
At long last, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the celebrated mask of Mexican misery, was in a federal courthouse, waiting to explain himself.
But Arpaio had to cool his heels while the trial's initial witness, one of his own, explained the inexplicable.
New Times cover story
The first deputy to raise his hand and swear to tell the truth set the standard for outlandish testimony that permeated Arpaio's trial.
And the deputy's own lawyer doubled down on his client's nonsense with the sort of tortured logic that only an attorney can float with a straight face.
"[Deputy Louis Dipietro] could not see the race of the driver or the occupants," intoned Tim Casey, hired to defend Sheriff Arpaio and his officers against allegations of racial profiling and abuse of power.
Casey's point was that race had nothing to do with the roundup of Mexicans over the past six years that triggered Ortega Melendres v. Joseph M. Arpaio, the lawsuit that had triggered the proceeding.
Casey demonstrated incredible brass.
Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres was stopped and detained solely because he was Mexican.
To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.
The sheriff stationed undercover officers to observe day laborers in a church parking lot.
The undercover deputies then alerted Deputy Dipietro when brown-skinned people got into a vehicle and only when brown-skinned people got into a vehicle.
Dipietro specifically was instructed to pull over the truck undercover officers saw Melendres enter.
The lawyers began the lying. And the deputies tempered their falsehoods with obfuscation and a sort of blunt-force racism that just isn't on public display in this day and age.
But what else would you expect from deputies employed by a sheriff who brags about how he lies in courtrooms?
The law, of course, forbids racial profiling. But the law, particularly Arizona Senate Bill 1070, as applied, is a funny thing. It sanctions a farce that runs like this: You cannot pull over a car simply because it's occupied by blacks or, in this case, browns. However, you are permitted to stop any vehicle for the slightest infraction: a cracked windshield, a dim light over a license plate, the tiniest transgression of speed, safety, or other rules of the road.
Several of Arpaio's deputies testified: If they followed a car — any car — they found probable cause to pull over a driver within minutes. And once they stopped a driver for an infraction, they were permitted to make inquiries regarding immigration status.
So law enforcement cannot harass minorities until after hyper-vigilant automobile inspection. But once a badge curtsies to that technicality, it becomes worse than white on rice.
In the case of Deputy Dipietro and Arpaio's church sweep, they could not even be bothered with legal fictions. First they spotted the Mexicans, then they found the violation, then they came to court and pretended they didn't do it.
Melendres was removed from the car, detained by the MCSO, then transported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where it was discovered he had his immigration papers in order. His visa was current.
In custody for nearly eight hours, Melendres was a clear example of the Fourth Amendment anxiety the Supreme Court expressed when it considered the constitutional problems of SB 1070. The justices worried that lawmen would detain people unreasonably.
Justice Stephen Breyer framed the issue: "Can you represent to us he will not stay in jail in detention for a longer period of time than he would have stayed in the absence of section 2B [the part of 1070 eventually upheld]?"
Paul Clement, representing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the proponents of 1070, responded to Justice Breyer: "No. He's not going to be detained any longer than the Fourth Amendment allows. The immigration-status inquiry is something that takes 10 or 11 minutes."
Melendres' eight hours was not unusual. Nor was it constitutional.
Deputy Dipietro, who followed and then stopped the vehicle Melendres rode in, made an unusual witness. His testimony was almost cartoonish. He considered every question, even those from his own attorney, as possible traps. He pondered long and hard before surrendering an answer. He avoided words as if they were germs. When he finally responded, he resorted to cop-speak, the law enforcement equivalent of Spanglish.
"Well, the driver was in a means of transportation [truck]. He didn't know the occupants [day laborers], and they were coming from a parking lot [of a church]," recounted Dipietro. "The Human Smuggling Unit was investigating for some type of crime or possible crimes [Mexican entering truck]. I believe that there's possible reasonable suspicion to think that they might be involved [in smuggling] . . . Yes, most of the ones that I came across."
Where others saw day laborers as men willing to hire themselves out for odd jobs, Dipietro saw smugglers.
"You believe most day laborers are undocumented?"
"How many times have you been involved in operations relating to day laborers?"
"That was the only one."
He went on to say that his deductions were based upon the day laborers encountered that day.
The Sheriff's Office encountered a total of two vehicles that day.
And the day laborer that Dipeitro detained was not illegal.
The Melendres trial delivered more than fictional foolishness. Perjury was a regular guest.
Manuel Nieto and his sister, Velia Meraz, both American citizens, pulled into a parking lot at a Cave Creek convenience store in March 2008.
The siblings were blasting Spanish music on the car radio. The windows were down.
"It was a cumbia, because I was getting into it and kind of dancing around in my seat and singing," testified Meraz.
Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz, who had two suspected illegals detained in the parking lot, noticed the brother and sister right away. He already was stressed.
"There had been protesters at the sweep's headquarters. The picketers were chanting: 'No diga nada' — don't sign anything. 'Pidale abogado' — ask for a lawyer."
The brother and sister observed the two people detained by the sheriff's deputy. The Americans yelled to the detainees exactly what the protesters had chanted: Don't sign papers; ask for a lawyer.
Confronted by American citizens urging Mexicans to exercise their rights, the deputy went to red alert.
"At a point, where it became more of an officer-safety issue, I began ordering them to leave."
How loud was the yelling by the brother and sister?
"Kind of like the mom in the grandstands yelling at her son to hit a home run," testified the deputy.
Two Mexicans were told their rights in a voice reminiscent of a mom at a Little League game. Latin music played on the radio. A deputy's life was endangered.
Ordered to leave, the American siblings departed.
The deputy remembered their exit: "When they left, it was, 'Fuck Arpaio.' And they called us 'Nazis.'"
A backup patrol summoned by Deputy Armendariz quickly pulled in behind Nieto and Meraz. Rather than simply stopping, they proceeded a couple of hundred feet to the safety of their family's auto-repair shop.
Less than a quarter-mile away from the original incident, the brother and sister were surrounded by other deputies with guns drawn.
Deputy Douglas W. Beeks testified: "I heard Charley [Deputy Armendariz] put out a call on the radio that, during a traffic stop, that another vehicle had tried to run him over . . . There's a normal conversational tone . . . Then there's a tone that a voice inflection that would be pretty obvious if something significant had just happened to you, whether someone had threatened you or come toward you or some incident where you were potentially at risk of being harmed or had come close to being harmed . . . And that was very clear when Charley got on the radio that something had occurred . . . I believed that a vehicle had tried to strike him . . . The sentence that he said contained the words that 'a vehicle just tried to run me over.'"
There was no transmission from Armendariz claiming that someone tried to run him over. Such a call never went out because no one tried to run him over.
Question: "At any time, did these folks try to run you over?"
Question: "Did they do anything else confrontationally?"
Yet Deputy Beeks swore under oath that they tried to run over his colleague.
It is perhaps not surprising that lies are sworn. You could not expect the deputies to do any less after Sheriff Arpaio himself set the bar for dissembling.
When the 80-year-old sheriff took the stand, the courtroom was packed.
The sheriff did not remember many things. He denied saying what he said plainly on television. He did not write what he wrote in two books.
Arpaio declared that he had no role in deciding where immigration sweeps occurred. This was important because records show that citizens routinely asked for roundups of Mexicans if they heard someone speaking in Spanish, saw someone brown selling corn in parking lots, or, worse, observed minorities gathered as day laborers.
Some citizens simply were annoyed by people clearly not from the Midwest. Other citizens were white supremacists, nativists, or English-firsters. Records further show that the sheriff passed these race-baiting letters to Deputy Chief Brian Sands, charged with orchestrating roundups.
Yet Arpaio swore that he never suggested any specific sweep. He merely forwarded these letters to Chief Sands as reading material. This, too, is important. Letters alleging no criminal activity are not grounds for raids.
Sheriff Arpaio further argued that Chief Sands targeted a neighborhood for immigration enforcement only after deeply studying it for evidence of criminal activity.
"Only after my people studied the area to see if there was a crime issue" is how the sheriff described the process.
Referring to Chief Sands, Arpaio stated: "He makes a decision after obtaining information, intelligence . . . and advises me where he's going."
The sheriff is used to the press conferences he orchestrates with a cooperative press; in a courtroom, witnesses are cross-examined.
Sheriff Arpaio was caught lying — repeatedly.
There wasn't a single piece of evidence over weeks of testimony to support the fiction that data on criminal activity determined where the sheriff conducted his immigration sweeps.
In the voluminous exhibits that were part of the record, there was only the occasional compilation of crime statistics. (In about three-dozen sweeps, a mere three examples of crime data surfaced. And in these isolated instances, the data is not accompanied by suggestions that the deputies seek out criminals.)
Paperwork aside, Chief Sands' sworn testimony was at direct odds with the sheriff's.
"You don't really see spikes in crime in particular areas as being a criterion for having a saturation patrol; is that right?"
"That's correct, yes," responded Sands.
"The sheriff suggests saturation-patrol sites to you, correct?"
"We have discussions about them, yes."
"And you follow his suggestions, correct?"
"When Sheriff Arpaio sends you something and tells you, 'Have someone handle that,' is it your understanding that you're supposed to do something or that he wants you to do something to resolve the problem that the member of the public has presented?"
"I should hope so," concluded Sands.
So why would Sheriff Arpaio lie so blatantly about the origins of his sweeps? Why would he claim that Chief Sands — instead of the headline-hungry sheriff — determined the neighborhoods to be swept based upon crime data?
In 2006, Arpaio decided to go after immigrants with everything he had. The sheriff openly flaunted the law. He was hunting Mexicans. His approach wowed the wowsers and made him a national figure and a regular on Fox news.
"Ours is an operation," Arpaio announced in February 2007. "[It's] not the crime first; [it's] that they happen to be illegals . . . My philosophy is a pure program. You go after illegals. I'm not afraid to say that. And you go after them, and you lock them up."
Arpaio made so many outrageous statements about Mexicans that it's difficult to catalog them all. But he got plenty of air time when he denounced them as "dirty" and "disease carriers."
On June 4, 2008, Arpaio summed up his rants with this observation: "Well, you know, they call you KKK. They did me. I think its an honor."
His racism was on trial for the first time in Judge Murray Snow's courtroom.
And so Arpaio lied about the impact of voters' racist letters that he'd passed to Chief Sands.
The plaintiffs, led by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, as well as the national ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and law firm Covington & Burling, did not charge that every sweep was in response to racist letters from voters. But they made a strong argument that, at a minimum, eight of the crime-suppression roundups were instigated in this fashion.
Frankly, it was impossible to fully account for all that happened under Arpaio's command because much of the record is missing.
The sheriff and his men began these legal proceedings by destroying tens of thousands of pages of evidence.
Arpaio's command staff destroyed years of incriminating e-mails despite numerous requests from the litigants' lawyers to preserve this evidence.
(All but one year of the e-mails were recovered when it was discovered that the county had backed up much of the correspondence. But at the end of the day, one year of e-mail evaporated, never to be returned, and entire filing cabinets of evidence were shredded or destroyed.)
Arpaio himself was discovered to have hidden the existence of his own bombshell files.
This treacherous behavior should surprise no one.
Sheriff Arpaio bragged to an anti-immigrant Houston audience in 2009 about his willingness to lie.
"I always — I always have an official reason: So I can win the lawsuits. And then I have my reason."
All trials have a story.
In the courtroom, the Sheriff's Office repeatedly conveyed the notion that the deputies did not round up gardeners, cooks, babysitters, drywall hangers, or any other working stiffs from Mexico.
No. The deputies were intent only on rescuing victims of drop houses.
Years ago, drop houses were the media rage. National reports suggested that Phoenix led the nation in kidnapping because Mexican nationals were held here against their will for ransom. Smugglers brought their human cargo safely across the border, then phoned their victims' relatives in Mexico and demanded a higher fee than agreed upon. It was an ugly business.
And the Arpaio team attempted to capitalize on the drama.
But this version of immigrant roundups contradicted virtually every public statement by Arpaio, who targeted Mexicans as criminals, not victims.
Yet in trial, these men who operated checkpoints in ski masks and bulletproof vests — who broke up families without a thought — testified that they were there to help the helpless.
Deputy Carlos Rangel was walked through this dance by his attorney:
"When you operate in saturation patrols in Maricopa County, do you ever target drop houses?
"Known drop houses?"
"Suspected drop houses?"
Deputy Armendariz, who actually did participate in a single isolated hostage rescue, went on at great length about how laborers are kidnap victims working to pay off extortion.
Chief Sands made the case that this also was the command perspective: "And my whole perspective of the enforcement was to correct or change somehow that was purely going after drop houses or delaying the operation of the drop houses."
An incredulous judge challenged this romantic tale of law enforcement.
"The saturation patrols we have discussed in this lawsuit are not ones that involved targeting a drop house?" the judge asked Sands.
The chief responded that he did not recall details.
Which is not to say that there were no details.
In sworn testimony spread out over three weeks, there was not a single example of a drop house liberated in any sweep.
With good reason.
New Times investigated the ransoms and terror of drop houses, from law enforcement's perspective ("Seized," Monica Alonzo, August 12, 2010). Sheriff Arpaio's office simply wasn't a factor, then, now, or ever in the busting of drop houses. One Phoenix police officer actually assigned to investigating drop houses referred to Arpaio's deputies as "scrappers." They cleaned up whatever scraps they ran across, meaning they took only cases that required no investigation.
In the deluge of exhibits that accompanied the case, there was a piece of paper that captured the reality.
According to the sheriff's own file, "Enforcement Support Division, Operation Intel," from January 2008 to June 2009 (18 months of data from the Southeast Valley), Arpaio's men identified just four drop houses. In the same time frame, ICE eliminated 158 drop houses in the same corridor.
The courthouse fiction went beyond the obvious record.
Sheriff's deputies maintained that their dragnets could rescue those held in drop houses who were let out for the day to pay off their ransom debts by working as lawn workers.
In other words, instead of extorting several thousands of dollars from an immigrant's family in Mexico, the deputies alleged the smugglers let their victims out to work for less than minimum wage. And then, the poor Mexicans returned to their vicious captors after a long day of mowing Bermuda grass.
The deputies simply made it up.
Sal Reza, an immigrant rights activist with Puente, once oversaw Macehuallis, an umbrella group that worked on behalf of day laborers. Reza spent every day for nine years with day laborers and simply did not see kidnapped men showing up for odd jobs.
"It's not common at all," was his skeptical observation.
As the trial unfolded, police officers throughout Arizona began enforcing 1070 as a result of rulings in other courtrooms. The law mandates that any officer having any contact with any person suspiciously brown must inquire about his or her immigration status.
It smells of something unripe that Sheriff Arpaio stands accused of offending this statute's apartheid sensibility.
The Sheriff's Office, top to bottom, embraced the cultural contempt of immigrants.
Sergeant Brett Palmer, a supervisor in the Human Smuggling Unit, pulled together research for his boss.
In June 2009, he e-mailed up the chain of command data that he claimed was from the Los Angeles Times: "Forty percent of all workers in Los Angeles County are working for cash and not paying taxes. This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants working without a green card. Over two-thirds of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal whose births were paid for by taxpayers. Over 300,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages. In Los Angeles County, 5.1 million people speak English, 3.9 million speak Spanish."
Sergeant Palmer explained in court that he sent this data out for "training purposes."
This "data" wasn't published in the Los Angeles Times. This race-baiting data was concocted, pure and simple.
And even if the data wasn't made up — which it was — how is it the least bit relevant to immigration enforcement?
Palmer circulated wildly exaggerated anti-Mexican propaganda that could only fuel racial animus in the Sheriff's Office.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times already had debunked this "data" as a chain-letter-style hoax before Palmer distributed it.
This wasn't the end of the sergeant's peculiar management style.
Palmer believed, erroneously, that being in the country illegally was a federal crime. He also believed that overstaying a visa is a federal crime. It isn't. Palmer just copied Internet gibberish and passed it along to his bosses so that they could better understand the law. Palmer cited a federal statute that did not exist. The sheriff then quoted Palmer.
Nor was Palmer the only miscreant in management spreading this bilious hate.
In fact, Sheriff Arpaio himself circulated the same sort of Internet nonsense. He distributed to his command staff racist "analysis" purporting to be from the Immigration and Naturalization Service/FBI.
Under the official heading: "2006 (First Quarter) INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants" ran a full page of outrageous venom.
The sheriff's "FBI" memo blamed illegal aliens for virtually all murders in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The memo listed various categories in which illegal aliens ruined American life: "Crime, births, housing, TV and radio stations, schools, social services, population, employer profits, taxes, and jobs."
It did not take a rocket scientist to see through the statistics generated by an Internet sock puppet. For a media hound like the sheriff, it would have been obvious that the number of radio and television stations cited as Spanish-only in Phoenix was wildly exaggerated.
"You thought that this document was also relevant to Chief Sands' duties, correct?" Arpaio was asked in court.
"And you gave it to him without regard to whether it was correct or not, is that right?"
"It says FBI. I presume it may have been correct."
"You didn't do anything to verify whether any of this information was correct? Is that right?"
"I did not."
It is difficult to believe the sheriff. The document he circulated, purportedly from the FBI and the INS, was dated 2006.
The INS has not existed since 2003.
INS was replaced by ICE, the agency particularly well-known to the sheriff because it licensed his 287(g) enforcement.
So if the sheriff did not care what he circulated, why would Sergeant Palmer?
Palmer's rapport with his troops was such that they felt free to e-mail him racist jokes. "Mexican Yoga" was portrayed as a bunch of Mexicans passed out with a bottle of tequila. A "rare" picture of a Mexican Navy SEAL was a photo of a Chihuahua in scuba gear.
This, then, was the management tone inside the law enforcement agency where voters furious about Mexicans sent their letters of frustration.
One outraged letter writer asked Sheriff Arpaio: "Lastly, we would like to know why the Mexicans are allowed to park on the corner of 99th and Broadway peddling their corn, peanuts, et cetera. I know they do not have a permit. It is not fair we have to see them every day driving into our complex."
The sheriff sent a note to his constituent and passed the letter to Chief Sands.
In court, an attorney pointed out that there was no suggestion that the peddlers were illegal aliens, just Hispanic.
But the sheriff was defiant.
"I think we were talking about not having a permit, which is a violation of the law regardless who they are. She was complaining about corn vendors with no permit to operate."
And so immigration officers pursue permit-less corn vendors?
"We do have drop houses where food is stored," snapped Arpaio. "People are selling goods without a permit, which is a health problem."
Another correspondent offered Sheriff Arpaio a lesson in geopolitics.
The letter cited the "dysfunction of Hispanic countries and their governments, and the fact that their governments allow their citizens to run amuck like wild feral animals in all that land area."
The sheriff was so impressed with this exposition that he ordered three copies for his private file.
Then he forwarded the letter to Chief Sands.
"I thought that since it's written to Congressman [John] Conyers, who was head of the Judiciary Committee, with copies to the president and Attorney General [Eric] Holder, that he [Sands] might be interested in someone writing these government officials, regardless of what the content was."
The saturation patrols that rounded up undocumented people were exercises in terror. There were dozens upon dozens of deputies and posse volunteers in full military regalia. The lawmen often did not look at all like cops. You had deputies with automatic weapons, dogs, and balaclavas pulling over people with cracked windshields. After more than three dozen raids from 2007 to 2009, there was concern that the values behind these roundups now informed the average deputy's daily duties.
And from the start, Mexican-Americans — citizens who have fought in wars, paid taxes, voted in elections, and lived peaceably for generations in the Southwest — have asked a basic question: Because I and my family look like Mexican nationals, how do we avoid harassment?
Consider Lorena Escamilla, an American citizen who was pulled over about 10 p.m. on September 2, 2009. Arpaio and his deputies do not comment when their behavior is questioned. So the trial provided the sworn testimony of the officer for the first time.
Escamilla was driving in the opposite direction of the officer. In the rear-view mirror on his door, Deputy Francisco Gamboa managed to notice that the light on her rear license plate was not illuminated.
Throughout the trial, Arpaio's attorneys and his deputies maintained that they never noticed the race of drivers. They maintained that darkened windows and other conditions made it impossible to observe anything about the drivers until vehicles were stopped.
So even a deputy proceeding in the opposite direction did not notice Escamilla was brown. What he saw in the rear-view mirror on his car door was a license plate that was not fully illuminated.
Deputy Gamboa made a U-turn and followed Escamilla.
"My beat partner and I, we had discussed about going into the area because he works off-duty there in the HOA, which is a housing association," said Gamboa. "And he had the intel that there was a lot of high-volume drugs going on in there in that neighborhood."
Law enforcement officers do not pass along gossip. They pass along "intel."
Gamboa turned on his flashing lights "because it's probable cause to speak to the driver."
Why was that necessary?
"To see what they're doing, see what they're doing in that area. See if they even live in that area. There's numerous contributing factors that we look for at night, as opposed to during the day, while you're on patrol looking for probable cause to pull over a vehicle."
There was no testimony that such scrutiny was attached to more affluent ZIP codes.
According to the officer, she drove a "minute, minute and a half" after he activated his lights. She pulled into the driveway of her home. She called her mother.
Her husband came out of the home. Both husband and mother were "cordial," according to Deputy Gamboa, but Escamilla was agitated. She did not know why she was pulled over.
She produced a license and registration (which proved citizenship) but was waiting for proof of insurance to arrive in the mail (she would furnish insurance paperwork that week).
"He said," Escamilla recalled at trial, "that he had reasonable belief that I had drugs, alcohol, and weapons in my car. I said, 'No, I'm pregnant. I'm on my way home from school.'"
"He said, 'It doesn't matter. People do drugs when they're pregnant.'"
"I said, 'Well, not me.'"
At five months pregnant, Escamilla was clearly showing, Deputy Gamboa testified. But he wrote off her agitation to something else.
She performed and passed a sobriety test. She was instructed to sit on the hood of the car.
Pointing out how hot the metal was (the Valley was enduring 100-degree days in September), she explained that her hips hurt and "she needed to get my blood flowing." She refused to sit there.
According to Escamilla, Deputy Gamboa responded: "I can be an asshole if you want to be a bitch."
Escamilla then testified that she was slammed stomach-first against her car when she refused to sit on the hot hood as instructed.
Gamboa then called a K-9 unit and had a drug dog inspect Escamilla's car.
So Gamboa had heard something about high-stakes drug dealing. He was in the driveway of a home where a mother and husband tried to calm an agitated daughter and wife. She was pregnant. The 25-cent light on her license plate wasn't working. Bring in the dogs.
Why did the deputy call the K-9 unit?
"I don't recall exactly why."
He did say that he found Escamilla's behavior "very bizarre, very erratic, very non-compliant."
In fact, as the stop graduated from one event to the next, Escamilla's breathing became erratic and Gamboa called EMTs.
While Sheriff Arpaio defended himself in federal court against charges of racial profiling, he also testified in a separate state courtroom regarding the agonizing death of Deborah Braillard in one of his jails.
Longtime pest holes, Arpaio's cells have been under a federal judge's oversight since his first election in 1992.
Attorney settlements and verdicts against Arpaio have cost taxpayers more than $50 million. Even so, the details of Braillard's ordeal were appalling.
Although her medical records at the jail showed Braillard was a diabetic dependent upon insulin, jailers did not look at her medical records. She went into diabetic shock and horrific convulsions. As she vomited and defecated on herself, moaning in pain, desperate inmates attempted to get help.
Arpaio's staff, known for telling inmates that suffering is what they get when kicking drugs, ignored Braillard's pain. Braillard was not kicking drugs, and if she had been kicking drugs, she would have required immediate medical attention.
After days of heartbreaking torture, Braillard slipped into a coma and died in a hospital.
When attorney Michael Manning finished unfolding the details in front of a jury, Arpaio's lawyers offered a settlement to Braillard's daughter of $3.2 million rather than let a jury decide the amount. On October 31, the settlement was rejected by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, meaning the Braillard case will, indeed, go to trial.
Last week, with Judge Murray Snow's ruling on racial profiling still pending, Arpaio was sued for yet another senseless killing of a prisoner at the hands of his jailers.
On October 23, Sheriff Arpaio was sued for $15 million on behalf of Ernest "Marty" Atencio's family.
Recognized as mentally ill when arrested, Atencio was asked to goon for his mug shot by the sheriff's mocking and clowning staff. Under the federal mandates governing Arpaio's cells, a mentally ill detainee is supposed to be segregated and given immediate medical attention.
Instead, Atencio was put through a booking process he clearly did not grasp. When he passively refused to take off a shoe, he was attacked by a crowd of law enforcement personnel, tased, and beaten into unconsciousness. Stripped of his clothes, he was tossed naked into a cell while surveillance cameras captured jailers dancing in celebration outside his cell.
None of this appears to matter in the least to a majority of voters who will go to the polls next week. Arpaio is expected to get voted back into office, though many hope that Democratic challenger Paul Penzone can pull off a miracle.
Here is how popular Sheriff Arpaio's brutality and anti-immigrant crusade have made him.
Consider the revulsion elicited by child molesters: Catholic priests, Boy Scouts leaders, the BBC scandal, and Jerry Sandusky.
Yet the documented 400 cases of sexual abuse Sheriff Arpaio ignored to pursue political enemies and migrants made little dent in his popularity.
When law enforcement is out of control, historically it is held to account not by voters but by the U.S. Justice Department.
Accountability trumps popularity.
When former County Attorney Andrew Thomas conspired with Sheriff Arpaio to arrest and indict their political opponents on the Board of Supervisors and in the state judiciary, the State Bar of Arizona investigated the witch hunts and then revoked Thomas' ability to practice law.
But President Barack Obama and the Justice Department ducked their own four-year criminal investigation of the sheriff. Despite Arpaio's diverting $100 million from the jail-enhancement fund to underwrite immigration sweeps, the feds announced that they were dropping the probe.
Their announcement was timed for prime political impact and coincided with the sheriff's well-publicized speech at a rally outside the Republican National Convention.
If the Justice Department ducked the criminal investigation, they blinked on the civil probe of the sheriff.
After announcing at a press event that they had determined Sheriff Arpaio engaged in the worst pattern of racial profiling in the history of American law enforcement, the Justice Department told incredulous onlookers that they intended to collaborate with him to correct the situation. Rather than sue in a civil action, the feds suggested that they could work with the sheriff.
In a tight election cycle, President Obama did not want to provoke Arpaio and his national base of fans and funds.
Appeasement did not work.
The sheriff told the feds to take a walk. He wouldn't be collaborating.
The Justice Department belatedly announced a civil action.
But the heavy lifting of litigation was carried by the ACLU, MALDEF, and Covington & Burling.
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to join the National Guard in Arkansas to protect the rights of black children trying to secure an equal education. Citing "the leadership of demagogic extremists," Eisenhower confronted local politicians and law enforcement in Little Rock.
Instead of confronting the obviously outrageous behavior of Sheriff Arpaio, the federal government enabled it. Obama's director of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, allowed the sheriff and his deputies to become America's largest force in their 287(g) deportation program.
Napolitano, former governor and U.S. Attorney of Arizona, knew explicitly what a thug the sheriff was. The brutality and death in his jails, Tent City, pink underwear, chain gangs, and the early stages of immigrant bashing began under her watch.
SB 1070, the incendiary "show us your papers" legislation was not signed by Governor Jan Brewer until April 2010.
Had President Obama and the Justice Department stood up to Arpaio from the outset, the momentum for immigration extremism surrounding SB 1070 could have been challenged.
Instead, the sheriff fanned the flames of immigration hysteria for years beginning in 2007. The heat extended beyond mere roundups to full-scale media events based on the hunt for Mexicans and press conferences.
Arpaio conducted 32 crime-suppression sweeps and another 36 workplace raids.
In four years, the sheriff's crime-suppression sweeps stopped between 500 and 750 Hispanics out of more than 1,600 total stops. The estimate on Hispanics varies because records do not reflect race; last names are the only clue, though not a decisive one.
The big numbers were found inside Arpaio's jails.
This from an MCSO press release: "This year  the Maricopa County Sheriff's Human Smuggling Unit has arrested over 2,500 illegal aliens involved in human smuggling and investigated over 50,000 in the jails and on the streets in the last three years."
President Obama explained to the nation that only serious criminals were targeted for deportation from American jails.
And that clearly was the intent when the sheriff signed the Memorandum of Understanding in February 2007 to set up the standards to license deputies to enforce 287(g).
Arpaio agreed specifically to target: "Criminal enterprises, organized criminal activities, gang activity, illegal trafficking of narcotics, and pervasive criminal activity."
Instead, he used cracked windshields to detain ordinary Mexicans.
A recent study found that 55 percent of those deported nationally had been charged with the most minor transgressions.
As Arpaio waits for a ruling in Melendres, SB 1070 remains a reality. In every encounter with a Hispanic, all law enforcement must inquire as to immigration status. There are consequences if a policeman does not ask.
It is not clear whether the pregnant Escamilla was the victim of a culture nurtured in Arpaio's command or she simply ran into a deputy having a bad day.
But it is clear what is happening since SB 1070 took effect.
Hugo Carrillo Escobedo was stopped for a traffic violation at 83rd Avenue and Thomas Road. He presented his registration, proof of insurance, and his visa. Informed that his visa had expired a month earlier, he was cited and his vehicle was towed.
After Escobedo was allowed to walk away, the officer who stopped him phoned and asked where he could find the high school student.
In short order, the policeman arrived at the Escobedo residence. The young man then was told he would be turned over to ICE.
"It's my job," explained the worried cop. "If I don't do it, I'll lose my job."
This is the hammer in SB 1070 used to force the police to sweep the streets of immigrants. Cops who do not challenge Mexicans face consequences.
Escobedo spent eight hours at ICE, where it was determined that he had a valid petition for legal status pending.
What Escobedo did not have was Fourth Amendment rights.
He had not told his mother where he was going because he was not sure he was coming back.
As people of color endure, Sheriff Joe Arpaio waits.
He waits for the judge's ruling. He waits for the people's vote.
The sheriff is not the only one anxiously waiting. More than 3,000 worried Hispanics have called the ACLU's hotline seeking advice on the impact of SB 1070. Many have signed power-of-attorney forms so that if they are deported, family members in Arizona can move forward.
The breaking up of families is accepted with resignation.
The grind in the metate is rough and coarse.
Author's note: This commentary comes with the writer's conflicts. Critics of the sheriff since his first run for office, my former partner and I were arrested and taken to jail by Arpaio's men because of an article we wrote. Furthermore, I am personally, politically, and financially committed to the ACLU.
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