For Arizonans Addicted to Sheriff Joe, We Suggest an Arpaio Sin Tax

Maricopa County has a monkey on its back: Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The local media act as the delivery method, funneling the dope to Arpaio junkies.

At least twice a week — sometimes more — the eyes of this town's TV hacks glow like coke fiends' as they regale their audiences with the latest of Arpaio's shenanigans.

Obviously, they get high on their own supply.

Whether it's a story about Arpaio's wanting to feed unpatriotic jailbirds bread and water or has-been action star Steven Seagal's vague suggestion that he might consider Arpaio's idea that he run for governor, Sand Land's fourth estate regularly feeds the public this unfiltered gunk — usually without a smidgen of skepticism.

The public laps it up and howls for more.

As with a pack-a-day habit, addiction to Arpaio is dangerous to the health of the body politic — and expensive.

Over the past 20 years, New Times has played the role of nagging general practitioner, warning the electorate of the cost of Joe's regime.

In 2007, New Times estimated total legal bills, payouts, and settlements 'cause of deaths, sicknesses, and maiming in Arpaio's gulags to be $41 million.

Back then, much of the public was enamored of Arpaio's pursuit of illegal aliens via unconstitutional racial-profiling sweeps and worksite raids.

The electorate also went along for the ride when it came to Arpaio's targeting his enemies and critics with retaliation. This, with the assistance of Arpaio's pet prosecutor, now-disbarred and disgraced former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

County supervisors, judges, ordinary county staff, and newspaper executives (the founders of this paper) found themselves on Arpaio and Thomas' hit list.

Even non-Arpaio-haters should have realized that Joe's slapping his enemies with trumped-up criminal charges was wrong and would result in lawsuits galore.

Which is exactly what happened.

In December, the county agreed to settle with former New Times execs Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey for their wrongful Third World-style nighttime arrests in 2007, which came after this paper revealed details of how a special prosecutor was targeting New Times and its readers.

The cost: $3.75 million.

Also in December, former Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley scored a settlement of $3.5 million for getting perp-walked by MCSO deputies on bogus charges.

Thus far, lawsuits brought on by the excesses of the Thomas-Arpaio era have cost taxpayers about $17 million.

The steady financial hemorrhaging over the years never seems to bother the electorate's majority.

Arpaio is in his sixth term as sheriff — and arguably is the most successful politician in Arizona history.

At the ripe ol' age of 81, he dominates public discourse like no other local political figure here. Were he to run again in 2016, and win, it would surprise me nary a bit.

In 2008, voters essentially endorsed Arpaio and Thomas' extraconstitutional pursuit of their enemies (and the undocumented) by returning both men to power.

Thomas almost became Arizona's Attorney General in 2010, losing a nail-biter of a primary to fellow Republican and current AG Tom Horne.

It was not the voters who brought Thomas low, but the State Bar of Arizona and the Arizona Supreme Court.

A three-member disciplinary panel appointed by the Supremes disbarred Thomas in 2012 for the same police-state activities and abuses of power in which Arpaio engaged.

The voters of this county could not be counted on to end the mischief of Thomas or Arpaio, you see.

A year before Thomas was emasculated legally, it was revealed that the MCSO had raided two protected jail funds to the tune of more than $100 million.

Arpaio and his henchmen used the ill-gotten dough to finance pet projects — such as the immigration sweeps.

In April 2011, I wondered in a column whether the swiped $100 million would matter to the voters in 2012.

It did not. In November 2012, a bare 50-plus percent of the general electorate voted for Joe over his two rivals.

Not long after Arpaio was re-elected, Maricopa County settled a lawsuit by the family of former county jail inmate Deborah Braillard for $3.25 million.

Braillard, a diabetic, was neglected by her jailers and denied medication, ultimately leading to her death.

Less than a year earlier, in December 2011, mentally ill Army vet Marty Atencio was beaten and Tased to death in what his family's lawyer Mike Manning called a "jailer's riot."

The attack was captured on tape and widely broadcast, with detention officers shown dancing and laughing following Atencio's death.

How much that bit of cruelty will cost the county has yet to be seen.

Yet 50-plus percent of the voters did not care. By voting for Joe in 2012, they might as well have been laughing and dancing right along with the guards.

To some degree, the lawsuit settlements always have been "funny money" to the electorate.

Generally, these settlements and legal expenses come out of the county's risk-management budget, a financial pool to which each county department contributes.

The current cash balance of the risk-management fund is $35,355,184.

The county has legal insurance, which kicks in after a $5 million deductible, per case.

The deductible has increased over the years, but as it stands, the incentive is to settle any claims under $5 million with risk-management moolah.

This affects the county's bottom line, sure, but not in the more direct way that the ACLU's big-racial profiling case, Melendres v. Arpaio, will.

The case is not covered by the risk-management pool.

As you know, Arpaio lost Melendres in 2013, with federal Judge G. Murray Snow finding Arpaio and the MCSO guilty of prejudiced policing.

Snow not only enjoined Arpaio from discriminating against Latinos, he ordered a litany of reforms in training, technology, and oversight to ensure that the MCSO ends its racial-profiling ways.

This will include a court-appointed monitor over the MCSO, who could be named any day now.

Just before Christmas, Arpaio and his aides went hat in hand to the supervisors to ask for a $40 million increase to the MCSO's budget, $21.9 million of which would include the cost of compliance with Snow's order, spread over fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Since Snow's order requires that the MCSO be in compliance for at least three years running, and since the MCSO is nowhere near being in compliance, the estimated cost of Melendres could double or triple as time goes on.

This is not funny money. It will not come out of risk management or be paid back in percentages to some special account.

It will come from the general fund, money that could be used for a host of needed improvements to county facilities and services.

As we operate in a democracy, the blame for this situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the majority of the electorate, which remains hopelessly addicted to Arpaio, though this addiction adversely affects all who live here, not unlike secondhand cigarette smoke or pollution from gas-guzzling vehicles.

That's why what we really need is a sin tax for those who can't say no to Joe.

See, about 680,000 people voted for Arpaio in the 2012 general election.

By my crude calculations, we could pass on the cost of that initial $21.9 million for Melendres to these 680,000 Joe-obsessed fools to the tune of about $32 per person.

They can keep electing him, as long as they're willing to pony up the dough for their addiction.

I mean, why should the rest of us foot the bill for their sickness, like some perverse form of Obamacare?

Enough of this socialism! If you are Arpaio-addicted, you need to pay.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons