Does U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke Have the Stones to Take on Sheriff Joe?
CBS 5's recent special report on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's pattern of retaliation against anyone who criticizes or opposes his office put some serious wind into the sails of Joe foes. Though it was not so much the partial recounting of Joe's enemies list in the nearly 10-minute segment. (A full recounting would've required a mini-series.)
After all, the fact that Arpaio likes to investigate and arrest his critics — everyone from Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley to Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin — is old chapeau to New Times readers.
As if to acknowledge this fact, CBS 5 producer Gilbert Zermeno and reporter Morgan Loew interviewed ex-New Times staffer John Dougherty about a 2004 run-in with Arpaio in which the sheriff and his goons claimed Dougherty threatened Arpaio with a "silver metallic object": A tape recorder.
What was new in the report was Zermeno and Loew's laying their evidence in front of former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, the no-nonsense, ex-Navy prosecutor and Republican who supposedly helped inspire Tom Cruise's strident character in A Few Good Men. Iglesias was also one of several U.S. Attorneys purged by the Bush administration in 2006 for refusing to seek political prosecutions.
In other words, his reputation is unquestioned, plus he has no beef with Sheriff Joe. That made his insistence that he would seek an indictment all the more tantalizing.
"I would go to a grand jury," said Iglesias. "I would work very closely with the [Justice Department's] civil rights criminal division in Washington, D.C. And, based on the information that I have, I would seek an indictment."
Iglesias stated that what he had reviewed of Joe's abuses reminded him more of "South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia," not the U.S. of A., where such skullduggery is "absolutely unacceptable." Something about Iglesias' old Dragnet-style buzz-cut and his Joe Friday "just-the-facts-ma'am" demeanor made his observations that much more credible.
Certainly, Iglesias has the freedom in his pronouncements of no longer being a U.S. Attorney. But he did back up his analysis by citing federal statutes that Arpaio and Co. may have violated: 18 USC 241 and 18 USC 242.
The first law sanctions those who conspire to "injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person" exercising his or her constitutional rights. The second makes it illegal to deprive someone of rights "under the color of law." That is, using the law to get back at your enemies, hiding behind a badge in the process.
You don't have to be a lawyer to reckon that Arpaio's gone after people "under the color of law."
So the big question becomes: Will anything be done about Arpaio's possible violations of federal law? Everyone knows the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating Arpaio, but will new U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke do anything about Arizona's rogue sheriff?
History does not bode well. Burke has long been a confidant to erstwhile Governor Janet Napolitano. He served as her chief of staff while she occupied the Executive Tower's ninth floor, and he later followed her to Washington, D.C., where he served as senior adviser to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary.
According to Arizona Democratic Party insiders, to talk to Burke was like talking to Napolitano. A nod from him could grant you access. A murmur that the state's chief executive was too busy meant your cause was doomed.
It may be too much to expect action from the trusted adviser to a cautious, do-nothing Democrat who avoided conflict with Arpaio, much less any act of standing on principle. Napolitano has been looking away from Arpaio's misdeeds for practically her entire political career.
That's because the pair have been political allies. In 1997, Janet Reno's Justice Department sued Arpaio over the conditions in his jails. When a settlement was declared, Napolitano, then Arizona's U.S. Attorney (and itching to run for state attorney general), appeared at a joint press conference with Arpaio and provided cover for Maricopa County's top constable. She pooh-poohed the lawsuit as a "technicality" and "a lawyer's paper."
In 2002, as Napolitano was engaged in her first gubernatorial campaign, Arpaio broke GOP ranks, and returned the favor by doing a TV ad on Napolitano's behalf.
As governor, Napolitano was instrumental in bringing the 287(g) program — which allows beat cops to play immigration enforcer — to Arizona and into Arpaio's eager mitts. How ironic that ICE, which is part of DHS, has had to strip Arpaio of some of the very same authority because of the very same civil rights concerns Napolitano felt free to ignore while she was governor.
I called Burke's office to ask him for a response to Iglesias' would-be willingness to indict. One of Burke's spokesmen, Patrick Hornbuckle, got back to me with the standard "we decline to comment."
But Burke has already made statements to the Arizona Capitol Times on more than one occasion suggesting he has smaller fish to fry than Sheriff Joe. For Burke, it's all about "border enforcement," the government buzzword du jour.
Asked by reporter Jeremy Duda whether he'll be investigating the sheriff, Burke was a study in meekness, saying he had no plans to that effect, insisting an investigation would be up to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
"From time to time, they might seek our assistance for help," Burke peeped.
Not exactly the sort of stuff that'll have Arpaio quaking. In fact, Burke's admission that Arpaio is on his back burner (if not on the back burner of his fellow feds, who are looking into Arpaio) should have Sheriff's Office muck-a-mucks sighing in their patent-leather chairs.
I asked former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley whether he thought Arpaio should be on Burke's back burner. Romley, always an authoritative critic of Joe, thought it was time to turn up the heat.
"I don't know how any U.S. Attorney could not put public corruption at the highest of levels," he opined. "That is one of the most fundamental charges to the Justice Department, to ensure that there is not corruption in government itself."
However, Romley insinuated that U.S. Attorneys can't even take smoke breaks without phoning D.C. for permission. He also suggested that the DOJ bring in a team of prosecutors to handle Joe, to avoid Arpaio's penchant for making conflicts personal.
"When I was county attorney, I learned that lesson," Romley continued. "Remember when [Arpaio] did the prostitution sting? C'mon, you think I'm going to be sanctioning law enforcement techniques that allow guys to get blowjobs? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life. But that isn't the way the press played it. The press played it as, oh, this is another personal feud between Romley and Arpaio. So the substance of the issue [was lost]."
Romley makes a valid point, though I know of one news outlet that didn't misrepresent Arpaio's bungled prostitution sting involving deputies and posse men getting nekkid with hookers on camera. Need we take a bow?
A DOJ flack in D.C. similarly declined comment on the statements of David Iglesias. Nor would the DOJ describe Burke's role, if any, in their probe.
Will history repeat itself, and will Burke end up shilling for Arpaio, as Janet once did? Burke's tepid statements so far leave us with only one hope: that Washington will either act on its own concerning Arizona's number-one civil rights problem or that it will force Burke to act.
Either way, it leaves those longing for justice in Maricopa County feeling like we're waiting for Godot.
The reason the feds must act in Maricopa County can be seen in the ongoing saga of Guadalupe town activist Andrew Sanchez and his family. As New Times reported in Michael Lacey's kick-off to the series "Are Your Papers in Order?", the Sanchez clan has suffered much at the hands of MCSO deputies — who look for any picayune reason to mess with them.
In 2008, during Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweep in Guadalupe, Sanchez committed the heinous act of honking his car horn in support of those protesting Arpaio's military-style invasion of the square-mile town of 5,500. Sanchez, whose vehicle was filled with anti-Joe signs and smeared with an anti-Arpaio slogan written in shoe polish, was stopped and cited for "improper use of horn." A judge later threw out the citation.
About a month later, his sister Elaine Sanchez was wrestled to the ground — as well as handcuffed, kneed in the back, and arrested because her license-plate light was out — by MCSO deputies.
Sanchez's brother-in-law Manuel Valenzuela was arrested on an outstanding warrant because he owed 40 cents on a $135 traffic fine that he'd already paid. Valenzuela's ticket was for operating Andrew Sanchez's car without a license. This was shortly after Arpaio's 2008 sweep. Why did the MCSO stop the car to begin with? Valenzuela had the high beams on.
Since Lacey wrote the Sanchez story in March, things had been relatively quiet for the family. Many of them live in a house Sanchez owns near Guadalupe's Family Dollar store, where Arpaio had his command post during the infamous 2008 sweep.
About a week ago, Sanchez was buying supplies for a Halloween haunted house the family was building in the backyard, when he received a call from Jonathan Coronado, his cousin's husband.
"The cops are in your room," Coronado alerted Sanchez, who dropped everything and rushed home to find that three sheriff's deputies had just searched his home, one of them with his gun drawn, looking for probation violator Alex Valenzuela, an ex-boyfriend of Sanchez's younger sister.
Valenzuela had been in the house days earlier before getting in trouble with his parole officer, and the MCSO apparently came looking because of the visit. Sanchez's aunt allowed the deputies to search the property when they told her she could get in trouble for harboring a fugitive. Sanchez says he would never have allowed them to search his house, and he believes they waited until he was away to knock on his door.
Needless to say, the MCSO didn't locate Valenzuela.
"Since the news came down that he has violated parole, he has not stepped foot in my house," Sanchez said. "He had been here several days back. Technically, he was not a felon then."
But that didn't stop an unnamed deputy from searching the house with gun drawn and children present. Coronado was in a bedroom sleeping. Also in the room was Sanchez's 11-year-old cousin.
"The deputy pointed [the gun] at me and said, 'Is there anyone else in the room?'" recalled Coronado. "I said, 'Just me and him. That's it.' He said, 'If you're lying, I'm going to have to put you down.'"
Coronado assumed the deputy meant that he would "Tase me or threaten me — something like that." Coronado says the little boy in the room awoke and was scared by the man with a gun, who proceeded to search the closet, the bathroom, and under the bed.
Afterward, a deputy informed Sanchez that his job as a resident program specialist at Arizona State Hospital could be in jeopardy for harboring a felon, though Sanchez had harbored no such person. It was a baseless threat, but a threat all the same. The deputy concluded the conversation with a revealing aside.
"He says, 'So you're the guy who's always in the New Times,'" remembered Sanchez. "I looked at him, and said, 'I've probably been in there, like, once or twice.' He said, 'Well, I've seen you in there a lot of times.'"
The next day, Sanchez said, members of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control arrived at his house. They said they'd received a complaint from the MCSO concerning loose dogs and gave Sanchez's uncle four tickets. That afternoon, an MCSO deputy came by to question Sanchez's teenage cousin.
"It was about [school] attendance, supposedly," said Sanchez. "But the officer got really personal with her, asking her about hickeys on her neck."
Sanchez informed the deputy he could not question the girl without her mom present. The deputy shot back, "Who are you, her lawyer?"
Eventually, Sanchez and other family members followed the deputy as he took the girl to Sanchez's aunt's house nearby. They videotaped him as they followed him.
That brings us to what Sanchez believes is the reason for this latest round of MCSO harassment: the formation of Guadalupe's Citizens Camera Crew, of which Sanchez is a member. As I discussed in last week's column, another member of the CCC, activist William Robles, has been stopped and questioned by MCSO deputies, who seem to think he got his camera from New Times or that he works for New Times in some capacity.
Neither Robles nor Sanchez work for this paper, nor has New Times given them cameras, though now that the MCSO is making an issue of it, it does sound like a good idea — because Sanchez and Robles seek to document interactions between the MCSO and Guadalupe's residents. (The MCSO is contracted to provide law enforcement for the town, half of whose population is Yaqui Indian, with the other half of Mexican extraction.)
CCC members have received training from the Phoenix organization Copwatch, which has been videotaping police stops for years. Such videotaping is perfectly legal, and even Guadalupe's top MCSO cop, Lieutenant Ed Shepherd, agreed that's the case when I spoke to him about an incident in which Deputy Loren Gaytan suggested to other Guadalupanos that Robles was working for the MCSO.
Gaytan's lie, recently caught on videotape, provoked some hotheads to jump Robles as he walked home.
Asked about some of Sanchez's recent run-ins with the MCSO's beige-shirts, Shepherd said a deputy is justified in pulling a gun during a search if he doesn't know whether a fugitive has a gun. As for the dog tickets, he made no apologies, as Guadalupe has a problem with loose dogs.
Shepherd rejected the suggestion that Sanchez is a target of Arpaio's office.
"I don't think [those deputies] were targeting anybody," said Shepherd. "They were out looking for a bad guy. Any kind of New Times stuff [said to Sanchez] . . . I think that's just in passing."
In any case, Sanchez said he and his fellow camera-wielding Guadalupanos will not be cowed.
"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," promised Sanchez. "We'll be out there patrolling. It is our legal right."
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