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Ex-Police Chief's Book Details Arpaio's Negligence in El Mirage Cases

Former Phoenix and El Mirage Assistant Chief Bill Louis

On November 2, 2007, career Phoenix cop Bill Louis was feted at a retirement ceremony in downtown Phoenix. Assistant Chief Louis was leaving the big-city agency after almost 31 years to join longtime PPD colleague Mike Frazier in El Mirage, the then-rapidly growing West Valley community near Luke Air Force Base.

Frazier was taking over as El Mirage's police chief and Louis already had signed on to be his assistant chief in the aftermath of the town's decision to terminate its two-year contract with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Officials from several law enforcement agencies attended the event and lauded Louis — a consummate pro who had overseen the twin serial-murderer investigations (dubbed the Baseline Killer and Serial Shooters) that had haunted Phoenix and the rest of the Valley in 2005-06.

As Louis recalls in his just-released book, If There Were Any Victims . . ., Sheriff Joe Arpaio's longtime number-two guy, David Hendershott, handed him a plaque signed by Arpaio after saying a few nice words.

Then, as everyone applauded, Hendershott (then still years from getting fired by Arpaio) whispered in Louis' ear.

"El Mirage?" Hendershott said. "What the fuck are you thinking?"

A few weeks after this, Louis began to learn more about what had happened during the MCSO's short reign in El Mirage than he ever could have imagined.

"It was like a Twilight Zone episode," the Phoenix native tells New Times.

"What we learned was that Arpaio and his people had been spending so much time on getting publicity for his so-called 'illegal-immigration' publicity routine that [the MCSO] had mishandled — really screwed the pooch on — dozens of potential sex-crimes cases that just disappeared. It was beyond my comprehension, and it was repulsive to me both as a police officer and as a human being."

Within about a year after chiefs Frazier and Louis (and onetime PPD homicide detective Jerry Laird) moved to El Mirage, two newspapers — the East Valley Tribune and the Arizona Republic — published exposés on the sex-crimes scandal and subsequent attempts at a cover-up by the MCSO (the Trib won a Pulitzer for its efforts).

The news accounts, which mostly were based on public records provided by the El Mirage Police Department, noted that upwards of 400 cases were "mishandled" by the Sheriff's Office, including dozens of sex-related incidents that received scant, if any, investigation by sheriff's detectives.

The sheriff vowed to "get to the bottom of any allegations" with an internal affairs investigation, a probe whose results, if any, never have been publicly revealed. Arpaio's slippery promise satisfied most media, swayed as they were by the MCSO's shape-shifting public relations teams to focus attention on "immigration sweeps."

Perhaps in another time and another place, the El Mirage fiasco surely would have at least spelled the political end of the man ultimately responsible, Sheriff Arpaio.

But he has proved more Teflon than Teflon itself.

Arpaio won re-election to a fourth four-year term in November 2008.

"He all but turned his back on investigating serious crimes and focused heavily on 'immigration enforcement,'" Chief Louis writes in his book. "As a result, many crime victims within his county were neglected, and countless offenders escaped justice."

Late last year, Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud revisited the mess in El Mirage, and the resulting stories ignited the still-simmering situation.

Chief Louis retired in October 2010, in part because of nagging medical issues, but was one of many on-the-record sources for the AP series (Chief Frazier moved to Surprise as its chief in early 2011).

Last December 5, Arpaio was forced to call a press conference to respond to the firestorm wrought by the chilling allegations in the AP articles. The sheriff at first seemed to concede that his agency had failed badly to bring a host of alleged sex perverts to justice.

But Arpaio couldn't help himself.

"If there were any victims . . . I apologize," the sheriff blurted in his trademark blend of cynicism and bluster, which his many supporters seem to equate with toughness.

Arpaio then added, "If there were any," spitting out the word "if" with obvious disdain.

Bill Louis says he was watching the press conference on TV at his home in Peoria.

"It pissed me off so bad that I didn't know what to do or say," he recalls. "Joe Arpaio knew — and knows — what happened out there, and he uses the word 'if'? He's not tough on crime. There's a bunch of assholes who would be in prison right now if Joe Arpaio were tough on crime. What he's tough on is his political enemies and on Mexican gardeners and people who wash shirts for a living. He's much more than just an 'embarrassment' to law enforcement. He's a totally political beast who gets to wear a badge and call himself sheriff."

 

Louis says he first broached the subject of writing a book on Arpaio and the El Mirage scandal during a family Sunday dinner soon after the sheriff's if-there-were-victims riff. The father of two grown children says his clan backed him, though the possibility of unspecified "retaliation" by Arpaio and his crew popped up during that discussion and others that followed.

First, though, Louis wrote a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic, which included a few sentences that later served as the heart and soul of his new book:

"Arpaio's callous comment . . . shows his arrogance and the insincerity of his so-called apology. He knows full well there were many victims, and he knows their identities . . . Sheriff Joe Arpaio failed these victims. At this point, there is little that can be done to undo the harm they have endured."

Louis, who long ago graduated Brophy College Prep, never had written much more than police reports and memos during his distinguished career in law enforcement.

Cobbling together what became a 342-page tome was a journey into an entirely new world, one beyond his comfort zone of acronyms for police-computer databases and departmental reports.

He says he stuck a notepad by his nightstand and purchased a digital voice recorder to memorialize his thoughts while driving. He wound up focusing his book on the "human element, about a guy who devoted most of his resources toward keeping himself in the news."

A few months ago, Louis shared what he had on paper at that point (about 50 to 60 pages) with his 82-year-old mother, a longtime fan of Arpaio's.

"Is this all the truth?" he says his mom asked him, about the dozens of poorly investigated — if investigated at all — cases that were discovered during a routine audit after he and Frazier took over in 2007.

"It was a real eye-opener for Mom, who really is a barometer for how a lot of folks think. It actually pained me in some ways to have to point out the way Arpaio treats people, the way he's given all of law enforcement in this county and state a bad name by targeting his perceived political enemies and anyone who crosses him for half a second, and how he deflects fault — always. But most of all, what happened in El Mirage affected so many kids and so many families, and Joe couldn't have cared less."

One of Louis' daughter-in-laws took a crack at the budding manuscript and told him, "You write like a cop." He says he took the friendly criticism to heart and tried to turn parts of the book more into a memoir instead of a glorified police report.

"A lot of this is from the heart, and I wanted to get that across," he says. "At the same time, I wanted part of the book to be an educational tool for other police departments, and even parents, about what to watch out for . . . to help protect kids. So I got into some stuff about how law enforcement is supposed to work, compared with the terrible situation we faced because of a real knucklehead [Arpaio]."

After the 2008 election, Louis says, El Mirage then-Mayor Fred Waterman, was at a function also attended by the sheriff. At the event, Arpaio told Waterman that Louis was a "political enemy," according to the mayor. The reason? Louis had donated money to the sheriff's election opponent, Dan Saban.

The sheriff's comment soon got back to the assistant chief, who was deeply troubled at what he considered a naked effort at intimidation.

"After 34-plus years of defending my country [in the U.S. Army] and community, I was now walking around with a target on my back as an 'enemy' of the county sheriff," Louis later wrote, noting that he told Chief Frazier that "it felt as if I was living in 1939 Nazi Germany."

This hardly was an exaggeration, he continued, in that "the sheriff has gone after judges, county supervisors, newspaper editors, and even the county's superintendent of schools. All because they voiced an opinion contrary to his own. He seemed to stop at nothing to hurt people, destroy their careers, and publicly embarrass them."

These are some of the best parts of Bill Louis' book, passages where he gets away from discussing police procedures and depicts Arpaio as a demagogue with a creepy group of yes-men and women ever eager to do his bidding.

The book is self-published, and Louis plans to approach book buyers at chains such as Costco and Barnes & Noble to gauge interest.

Louis says he hasn't heard yet from anyone in Arpaio's camp, even informally.

But on a recent weekend, he says, he was driving and noticed a black Ford Crown Vic that seemed to be tailing him. Louis says he pulled into a parking area after about three miles, and the Crown Vic followed him there.

 

So Louis took out his phone and took a photo of the vehicle.

"I don't know what was up there," he says. "I'm hardly a paranoid sort, but it did give me the creeps. I'm not so worried about Joe as about his fringe followers . . .  the true-believer types."

Louis adds, with a chuckle, "No black helicopters yet, though."

He says he holds out some hope (but not much) that current Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery will follow through on a promise made months ago to look into the botched sex-crimes cases.

"The jury is still out on Mr. Montgomery," Louis says. "Sometimes it looks as if he might be trying to distance himself a little from Joe."

As for what will happen when Arpaio no longer is sheriff, Louis says:

"The details in this book are only a trickle of information about the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Joe Arpaio. When he is finally voted out of office, employees will no longer feel their jobs are in jeopardy. At that point, I feel the floodgates of truth about Arpaio will open wide."


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