QUEEN FOR A DAY
The ironically dubbed "First Amendment Forum" at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism concluded as if it were something out of a surrealist film, with Joe Arpaio donning a furry UofA Wilbur the Wildcat hat while being serenaded by a cadre of pro-immigrant rights activists.
The singing of an anti-Joe ditty set to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen was the end of civilization as we know it, according to some. A black eye for ASU, editorialized the State Press, ASU's campus newspaper.
The sheriff had been invited to be interrogated by three of the school's most distinguished journalism professors. You know, strait-laced Fourth Estate stuff.
Yet silliness ruled the day, and Joe had to sign off 15 minutes early because of the Freddie Mercury wanna-bes. This, while the journalism profs were leaving verbal welts on the county's buffoonish top cop.
What I think many have forgotten in their rush to condemn the impish act of civil disobedience by a few is that there's a certain carny logic at work with any Joe show. That is, if you invite the circus to town, there will be clowns — one big clown, for sure.
Almost everyone involved got something from this event, even if it wasn't entirely what they wanted. Arpaio got to appear at a distinguished forum and have at it with his haters in the peanut gallery. The journalism dons got to nail Arpaio with some tough questions, proving their mettle. And the anti-Joe activists got to have the final word, off-key though it was.
Indeed, I think you fuddy-duddies out there will swallow the fake outrage if you play the Queen song in your head as you read the following lyrics, given to me by their author, an activist who called herself Stacy, to shield her identity:
Is this legitimate? Is this atrocity? / Caught up in politics. No sense of reality / Open your eyes. Look down to the south and see . . . The border stops brown folks, they cannot cross the line / But it's easy come, easy go, for the rich, n' their cargo / Anyway the migrants flow, doesn't really matter to me / To me.
Stacy, a recent ASU graduate, shrugged off the many people now ticked at her and her accomplices.
"People are [being] criminalized," she said, regarding the plight of the undocumented. "They are 'illegal' because they are intentionally criminalized. Arpaio gets plenty of airtime. And this point of view does not."
She was shocked that she and her fellow activists made it through the entire song without being hauled off.
"I thought they would kick us out immediately," she told me afterward. "But we were able to finish. It had to have been no more than four minutes. I didn't expect Arpaio to decide to leave the stage."
Her musical attack on Arpaio left 100 or more activists ecstatic as they gathered outside on the building's plaza, watching a big-screen TV.
Earlier, a pot-banging, placard-waving, unkempt crew had stormed the Winter Palace, er, Cronkite School lobby, where the local band Haymarket Squares sang anti-Joe ballads. Neither the school's security nor the Phoenix cops moved to eject them. They ejected themselves, ultimately.
After the protests, there was much gnashing of teeth in academe about the musical interruption. Journalism profs Rick Rodriguez, Susan Green, and Steve Elliott had brought up many pertinent issues as they grilled Joe: the selective exclusion of journalists from the sheriff's press conferences; the arrests of Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin; threats toward reporters who didn't toe the Joe line; lawsuits over public records . . .
The questioning was appropriately trenchant. Rodriguez, former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, laid into Arpaio from jump, recounting Arpaio's battles with the news media and his bullying of same.
Arpaio tried to buffalo Rodriguez with pat responses.
"I have an open-door policy," Joe claimed, a line of bunk he's used a billion times before. "All of you can come through the tents, do what you want."
Sure, I thought as I listened, in handcuffs.
Rodriguez was having none of it and asked Joe about his deputies' past threats to arrest reporters.
"What do you mean threaten to arrest?" asked Arpaio, rhetorically. "We're an equal-opportunity law enforcement agency. We arrest anybody who violated the law, whether they're a journalist, or whatever."
Green, Cronkite News Service's broadcast director, hammered Arpaio again and again on his refusal to allow the reporters he doesn't like into media events, pointing out that his "open door" was shut to some.
"I think there may be a reason for [excluding them]," Joe suggested. "Security reasons. There may be some — very few, a couple, two or three here — that use the press conference to sandbag me."
Sandbagging is a security concern? If so, every reporter worth his or her notepad would be shackled in one of Joe's gulags. Admittedly, there aren't many reporters with enough guts to get in Joe's face.
Rodriguez pressed Arpaio on the 2007 arrests of Lacey and Larkin, the botched investigation of New Times, the grand jury, the special prosecutor, the whole shebang.
"When I was the executive editor of the Sacramento Bee for many years," offered Rodriguez, "we quite often reported on secret grand jury testimony . . . But I was never threatened with arrest, let alone arrested. My question is this, in retrospect, were the arrests the correct police action?"
Arpaio played D, with Chief Deputy David Hendershott glowering from the front row of the audience.
"The point is, [Lacey and Larkin] did release grand jury [information]," insisted Joe, "and I presume that's a violation of the law. They did put my home address on the Web, which is a violation, a felony. Put me and my family in danger . . . But that's not the issue. The issue is that my chief deputy, Dave Hendershott, made a decision to put those two people under arrest. We have the probable cause. We have the right to do that."
Sure, Joe, that's why your third arm (Hendershott being the second), County Attorney Andrew Thomas, dropped the case less than 24 hours later, essentially admitting that the witch hunt against New Times had been a boxcar loaded with nitro, careening out of control.
Elliott, Cronkite News Service's head of digital news, showed a public document he said he'd located online "in 30 seconds" that had Arpaio's home address on it.
Arpaio said he'd tried to get that information redacted. Then, he admitted there may have been some, well, "slipperage" in reining in his address from the public domain.
Green inquired about the infamous subpoena to New Times, asking for IP addresses on all of the paper's online readers, along with a load of other personal info.
That is, on one hand, Arpaio was enraged about his address' being on the Internet; on the other, he wanted everyone else's reading habits laid out for him like rifles at a gun show?
"I'm not going to comment," responded Joe. "There's some litigation pending."
Nice dodge, Joe. Usually, it's "pending litigation" that he cites when he wants to keep New Times scribes from entry to the media events. The stuff about "security"? That's a new one.
Arpaio and Rodriguez got into it over a question from Rodriguez that dealt with Arpaio's abuses of power, his retaliation against critics, and his refusal to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice over its investigation into his office.
Arpaio accused Rodriguez of getting his question fed to him by CBS 5 News, which has recently done some take-no-prisoners pieces on Arpaio. Rodriguez vigorously denied it.
"I thought I saw that on Channel 5," Arpaio said.
"Maybe you did," Rodriguez shot back. "We're not allowed to follow up on media questions?"
"Well, listen," Arpaio said, "We have a lawsuit pending [against them]."
A suit pending against Channel 5? For what, reporting the facts? Wonder how far that alleged legal action will get, and how much it will cost taxpayers? Both CBS 5 reporter Morgan Loew and producer Gilbert Zermeno were in attendance. Neither had heard of such a suit against their station.
Shortly thereafter, the singing began. Arpaio played the fool, putting on his funny hats. First the Wildcats cap, then a plainer ASU hat.
The panel rose, and Joe was escorted out the door with his security and his sycophants. Outside, his armored clown car awaited.
As Arpaio and Company scooted out, I asked Hendershott, then Arpaio, why their deputies have been destroying public docs in the big racial-profiling lawsuit Melendres vs. Arpaio.
There was no reply from the aspiring Krusty the Clowns. Best to keep mum. After all, destroying public records is a class 2 misdemeanor, and we all know most of those in Joe's jails are in there for misdemeanors. Or so Joe told the profs.
See, in a stunning revelation recently made public as part of the ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, an MCSO sergeant has admitted that the department has been destroying documents and e-mails directly related to the MCSO's anti-immigrant sweeps. This despite numerous requests by the plaintiffs' lawyers for those documents and e-mails since the beginning of the suit in December 2007.
During an October 27 deposition of Sergeant Manuel Madrid, a supervisor and founding member of the MCSO's infamous Human Smuggling Unit, Madrid admitted that he had been deleting e-mails related to the sweeps and shredding so-called "stat sheets" submitted by individual deputies and posse members. The Human Smuggling Unit takes the lead in all immigration raids and sweeps, and Madrid was one of those responsible for compiling data on the dragnets.
In that deposition, part of which was made public recently in a 132-page motion by the plaintiffs seeking sanctions against the MCSO, Madrid stated that the destruction of evidence continued at least until the recent October 16-17 sweep in Surprise. Below is an excerpt from Madrid's questioning under oath by a lawyer for the plaintiffs:
Q: After the sweep from about two weeks ago, were you given stat sheets by the individual officers who participated?
Q: And do you still have them?
Q: What did you do with them?
A: I believe I shredded them.
Madrid made clear that he destroyed all the stat sheets as a matter of course after collecting data from them, which included information on stops made by sheriff's deputies, criminal arrests, citations issued, and the number of hours the deputies worked. The stat sheets also included a section for notes by the deputies or posse members involved.
Those remarks are not collected by the MCSO, and so are now lost, thus damaging the plaintiffs' ability to prove that the department is racially profiling — which is the point of the lawsuit. Other information was lost when those stat sheets were shredded, as well as the ability to cross-reference them with the final MCSO reports.
Under oath, Madrid copped to deleting e-mails concerning the sweeps whenever his e-mail in-box got full. Madrid testified that he had never received an order from higher-ups instructing him to save requisite e-mails or retain stat sheets.
Additionally, in a November 4 affidavit from Madrid's boss, Lieutenant Joe Sousa, the Human Smuggling Unit's top deputy, Sousa admits that after the information on the stat sheets was transferred to a "master data sheet," the stat sheets were "discarded."
Because each sweep has been performed by 100 to 200 deputies and posse members and because there have been 13 sweeps so far, plaintiffs' lawyers estimate that "hundreds, if not thousands, of stat sheets would have been available to plaintiffs but for defendants' shredding of the documents."
Attorneys for the Phoenix law firm Steptoe & Johnson, lead counsel in the case involving several racial-profiling victims, have made numerous requests for such documents in letters to Arpaio's lawyer, Timothy Casey, and in court pleadings. (Note: The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund joined Steptoe & Johnson in an amended complaint against the MCSO last year.)
"Defendants shredded the stat sheets even while receiving multiple requests from plaintiffs for these documents," reads the motion. "Plaintiffs identified these materials for preservation and production in July 2008, and served Rule 34 document requests for them in February of 2009."
The motion maintains that a "litigation hold" should have been placed on such documents by MCSO honchos at the beginning of the suit in 2007. Nevertheless, the shredding continued. After the February 2009 request, "defendants produced a smattering of these records." However, Madrid's testimony indicates that the destruction of evidence went on far after that.
Steptoe & Johnson lawyers David Bodney and Peter Kozinets have also sought immigration and sweep-related e-mails to and from Sheriff Arpaio, Chief Deputy Brian Sands, and Hendershott. But defense attorney Casey insisted in a November 4 letter to Kozinets that such e-mails from the upper echelon do not exist. That would mean no e-mail communication to or from these three MCSO big shots concerning immigration enforcement for the past two years.
Casey's reply to the charge that the MCSO has been destroying evidence was that the plaintiffs didn't need that evidence, anyway.
"Your charge of evidence destruction by Sergeant Manuel Madrid or the MCSO is hyperbole," Casey informed Kozinets in the November 4 letter. "Whether the MCSO kept individual stat sheets from July 21, 2008, to the current date is immaterial to the successful prosecution of the plaintiffs' case."
Yet on November 12, presiding Judge G. Murray Snow issued an order authorizing the plaintiffs to file a motion seeking sanctions on the defense-based admission that evidence had been destroyed.
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"Counsel for defendants," wrote Snow, "acknowledges that requests for such documents were transmitted to the MCSO as of July 2008, and further acknowledges that, despite this request, the 'stat' sheets that are prepared by individual officers during the course of the 'crime suppression sweeps' or 'saturation patrols' have not been maintained by the defendants. It is also possible, but less clear, that e-mails discussing these operations have also been deleted by the defendants."
Snow ordered both parties to "take affirmative steps to prevent the destruction of" other documents relating to the sweeps. The plaintiffs are seeking attorney fees and are asking that the depositions be reopened in light of Madrid's admission. They also want the judge to draw "appropriate adverse inferences against the defendants," meaning that the judge would assume that the destroyed evidence had been harmful to the defense's case.
Bodney recently informed me that the plaintiffs still have plenty of evidence to prove Arpaio is racially profiling. Still, the revelation, which was first reported in my Feathered Bastard blog on November 21, shows you that Joe's boys in beige have gone the way of Ollie North and Fawn Hall.
It's not terribly surprising. What's more surprising is that other local media have so far responded with little more than a yawn.