Guadalupe made it clear that Joe Arpaios attacking anyone with brown skin
With spirited protesters and helmeted deputies on horseback, the night of April 3 in Guadalupe was like some historical reenactment, albeit in miniature, of a late-'60s anti-war melee. You know, the kind chronicled by Norman Mailer in one of his seminal "non-fiction novels" of the era, such as Miami and the Siege of Chicago or The Armies of the Night.
Granted, no one will ever mistake Guadalupe, a dusty, postage-stamp-size municipality of about 5,500 people for Chicago, Miami, or D.C. And there were only four horsemen that evening, bolstered, though they were, by about 40 more deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. But as the contingent of gendarmes slowly approached in an attempt to clear the entrance to the Family Dollar parking lot where Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mobile command center had set up camp, there was the feel of something ugly about to go down.
The crowd of about 200 activists and citizens responded to this menace with high-pitched cries: "Yip, yip, yip, yip!" As if on cue, the horses began to buck their riders and neigh and snort, forcing the sheriff's mounties to pull back behind the chain-link fence.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
"Those are Mexican horses," someone quipped as folks laughed and cheered. It was but one sign that the two-day anti-immigrant sweep was not proceeding as planned.
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsTue., Nov. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
Arpaio's forces were meeting resistance outside the Family Dollar store, where demonstrators wielded homemade placards ordering Arpaio off Yaqui tribal land (the town was founded at the turn of the century by Yaquis who had fled the genocide ordered by Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz) and accusing his deputies of racial profiling.
Workers from immigrant rights organizations like Respect/Respeto shouted in Spanish to people detained by the deputies, telling them they had the right to ask for attorneys. Volunteer observers from Phoenix Copwatch spread out across the town of less than one square mile, monitoring every stop of a motorist for a broken tail light or cracked windshield, watching each questionable citation for offenses such as "improper use of horn."
The stops were a thinly veiled cover by MCSO cops to ask about the immigration status of Guadalupe's almost-entirely brown-skinned population.
The climax of the evening occurred when Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez delivered a press release to Arpaio, demanding that he cease his operation. Just before approaching the county's truculent top cop, Jimenez took counsel from fellow residents on-site. Some advised her that the move would be "political suicide." Others argued that it was the perfect moment to confront Sheriff Joe. Jimenez pondered her options briefly, studying the press release in her hand, then decided to walk over to Arpaio, who was speaking off-camera to a Channel 12 reporter.
"Okay, I'm not interrupting any [televised interview]. I'm just going to say what I need to say and walk away," she recalled thinking. But as soon as she handed him the release and said a few words, "he went off!"
Arpaio was spitting mad, hair out of whack, jabbing his finger at the polite-but-determined public servant before him. He accused Mayor Jimenez of inciting violence against his deputies. She denied this and countered that Arpaio had come into town under false pretenses, that the MCSO press release said "town officials" had asked him in, when that wasn't the case.
"Forget the press release!" fumed Arpaio, adding, "That doesn't matter. Action is what speaks . . . You said you didn't want us back here tomorrow. Is that what you said?"
"Yes," answered Jimenez.
"Well, we will be back here tomorrow," promised Arpaio. "Full force!"
Though Arpaio's troops continued their sweep the next day, going so far as to menace a confirmation ceremony for parish children at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church that Friday, April 4, Arpaio himself didn't return to Guadalupe. Rather, the county's most powerful law enforcement officer beat a tactical retreat, setting up his mobile command center at the MCSO's Mesa substation on April 4, instead of re-establishing his ad hoc headquarters in the Family Dollar parking lot on Calle Guadalupe. According to an MCSO press release, the withdrawal of the command post was "to allow deputies to work the streets of Guadalupe more than working crowd control."
But a source at Family Dollar suggested the store's corporate HQ had asked Arpaio to withdraw from its property. There was also the fact that then-interim Town Manager Mark Johnson had given the MCSO the verbal okay to use a patch of city property next to the Family Dollar store's blacktop. Presumably, that permission would have been rescinded in the face of opposition from members of the Town Council and the mayor.
Whatever the precise reason, like a sandlot bully faced with actual fisticuffs, Arpaio did slink away. And the backpedaling didn't stop there. Arpaio had previously told reporters that the anti-immigrant sweeps would be weekly events. Just a week earlier, on March 27 and 28, the MCSO caused a near-riot during a two-day sweep headquartered in a parking lot on the northwest corner of Bell and Cave Creek roads. The week before that, Easter weekend, the MCSO had set up at 32nd Street and Thomas Road for a similar operation. The MCSO was on a roll, with Guadalupe becoming the third anti-immigrant sweep in less than a month's time.
Post-Guadalupe, however, the controversial exercises ceased for four weeks. Despite the sheriff's bluster that there would soon be a sweep in Mesa, the MCSO gingerly returned to Hispanic-hunting with a low-profile operation on May 6 and 7 in the lily-white town of Fountain Hills, where Arpaio lives.
Maricopa County continues to await the sheriff's next move.
Guadalupe was where it became obvious that the MCSO was racially profiling. What happened in Guadalupe seemed so odious that it earned Arpaio's sweeps condemnation from a broad political spectrum.
Following up on his criticism of Arpaio during a César Chávez luncheon in March, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon addressed a letter to the U.S. Justice Department asking for an investigation of the sheriff. The letter was dated April 4, the second day of the MCSO's Guadalupe sweep, and the MCSO's actions in Guadalupe figured prominently in the missive. Gordon cited TV news accounts from the day before that described Hispanics being stopped on sidewalks and asked to produce identification. The Arizona Legislature's Hispanic Caucus soon piled on with its own letter to the DOJ, seconding Gordon's call for a federal inquiry.
On April 9, the New York Times, citing Mayor Jimenez's confrontation with Arpaio, demanded a congressional investigation into the sheriff's anti-brown escapades, and suggested Arpaio himself be subpoenaed to testify before Congress. Normally reticent, fence-sitting pols such as Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and Governor Janet Napolitano criticized the MCSO's patrols, and the governor stripped the MCSO of $1.6 million in state funds being used for the sweeps. Napolitano maintained the move was merely a budgetary shift, but most have read it as a swipe at the sheriff, including Arpaio himself. (Straight-faced, he denounced Napolitano's move as "dirty politics.")
Sources have informed New Times that the FBI has an agent investigating Arpaio and the MCSO for civil rights violations, though the FBI would neither confirm nor deny such reports.
Arpaio's self-inflicted wound in Guadalupe was made worse by his threat to exercise a quit clause in the Sheriff's Office's contract to provide law-enforcement services to the municipality, giving the town less than six months to find other police protection.
But Arpaio hasn't the power to exercise the blackmail on his own. Deanne Poulos, spokeswoman for the Board of Supervisors, said the board must authorize any such contract cancellation. Whatever the county does, Guadalupe is seeking alternatives to the MCSO, with which the town had been disappointed even before the sheriff came in and hassled practically anybody with brown skin.
According to Mayor Jimenez, Guadalupe Town Council members — and even former interim Town Manager Mark Johnson, who continues to be a vocal supporter of the Sheriff's Office — no one in city government requested the MCSO come into Guadalupe and do an anti-immigrant sweep. The town pays the Sheriff's Office almost $1.2 million a year for police protection, which, according to MCSO Lieutenant Ed Shepherd, who's in charge of the officers who work in Guadalupe, equals one deputy on the day shift and two at night (though he insists more are often on duty).
Much smaller crime-suppression patrols, incursions not obviously aimed at routing out immigrants at all costs, have been done "a couple of times a year," Shepherd said. When Shepherd advised the town on April 2 and 3 that such a patrol was to take place, Mayor Jimenez was skeptical, considering the recent anti-immigrant sweeps by the MCSO elsewhere in the Valley. But she accepted Shepherd's word in a conference call, sat in on by Johnson, that the MCSO was not after illegal immigrants.
"They told us they were doing a sweep because of recent graffiti," Jimenez stated on the night of April 3. "I asked them straight out, 'Lieutenant Shepherd, you are not coming to do an illegal alien search?' He said, 'I assure you we are not coming to do that.'"
For his part, Shepherd insists that no illegal-immigrant sweep took place on April 3 and 4 in Guadalupe. But an MCSO press release issued on the afternoon of April 3 screamed in bold typeface and capital letters about "illegal aliens," suggesting, spuriously, that illegal immigrants were responsible for recent violent crimes in Guadalupe, and that town officials had recently complained of illegal immigrants to the MCSO, thus prompting the April sweep.
Indeed, the sheriff's release was all about the subject of illegal immigration. It described the Guadalupe operation as part of the same effort that the MCSO had recently concluded at Cave Creek and Bell, and went on to denounce Hispanic activist and former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez for remarks he'd supposedly made on Radio Campesina KNAI 88.3 FM. The release also excoriated Phoenix Mayor Gordon's speech at the César Chávez luncheon. Judging from the content of the release, the purpose of the massive Guadalupe operation, which involved more than 80 officers over the course of two days, was clear: a public show of force aimed at harassing the town's Hispanic population and scooping up as many undocumented individuals as possible.
The MCSO was more successful at the former than the latter. Out of 45 people arrested on Guadalupe's streets during those two days, only nine were supposedly in the country illegally, according to both the MCSO and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That's a paltry haul, considering the fact that there are spots in town where day laborers have been known to congregate. But then, with a press release and a press conference by the publicity-addicted Arpaio on April 3 and large MCSO vans parked in the Family Dollar lot, the sheriff had scared away most of the undocumented.
On a strip of earth just outside the Family Dollar's fenced-in lot, angry residents, pro-immigrant activists, and the curious gathered. They held homemade signs that read "Arpaio go home" and "Arpaio is the only illegal here" and "Leave us alone, MCSO."
As the night wore on, word circulated that large numbers of ordinary residents were being harassed, as those who were stopped by deputies joined the protest and explained what had happened to them.
"They're targeting all of us who have brown skin. Period," complained Elena Osuna, who identified herself as a full-blooded Yaqui Indian. Osuna said she had been stopped by sheriff's deputies and asked for identification as she walked toward the Family Dollar.
"I was minding my own business coming over here," she explained. "What are they going to give me a ticket for? For walking?"
Asked if she thought the deputies knew the difference between Mexican Americans and members of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, Osuna shrugged, "Apparently not. They stopped me."
Andrew Sanchez, a member of the community-based Guadalupe Public Safety Committee, which had been looking into getting rid of the MCSO as Guadalupe's police force before the April 3 sweep, showed reporters his ticket for "improper use of horn." What was happening was, the MCSO was stopping and citing anybody who drove by the protest and honked an automobile horn in solidarity.
"I actually own my own property, and I live right here," said Sanchez, pointing to his home. "I'm not annoying anyone."
More people told of being ticketed for the same reason. Weeks later, when Guadalupe's chief magistrate, Robert Melton, was asked about tickets for horn-honking, he acknowledged that he'd never seen such citations before. The 120 tickets issued that night went through Valley Justice Courts outside of Guadalupe, though Melton told New Times he had requested that the tickets be transferred to his court.
Up on Avenue del Yaqui, unmarked SUVs and sedans pulled over vehicles so frequently that observers who were there to videotape the stops didn't even need to follow in their cars. They only had to wait on a corner for the next one to occur. The mostly volunteer videographers came from local civil rights organizations, such as Copwatch. Though a few individuals, like Phoenix activist Dennis Gilman, were independent.
The idea was to document as many stops as possible and, by their mere presence, force the MCSO to do everything by the book. The watchers also interviewed drivers after they were stopped and ticketed. Later, their footage was turned over to lawyers working for Respect/Respeto or other immigrant rights organizations.
"The cases that are documented are far different than what the sheriff reports," said Respect/Respeto spokeswoman Lydia Guzman. "These are people who are either citizens or legal permanent residents stopped for some petty reason. As an example, the deputies would say there were kids bouncing up and down in the back seat, when in fact the person had no kids in the car. Or [they'd] say tail lights didn't work when, in fact, they worked great. You know, made-up reasons."
Another person watching was longtime community activist Socorro Bernasconi, whose husband, Santino Bernasconi, is a deacon at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and the president/CEO of Centro de Amistad, a nonprofit drug-and-alcohol-treatment center.
In an April 14 letter to Mayor Gordon, thanking him for asking the Justice Department to investigate Arpaio's sweeps, Socorro Bernasconi listed several incidents she witnessed that night, along with the names and phone numbers of those detained. She also described how one deputy ordered her away from a scene, threatened to arrest her, then grabbed her arm and led her from the area.
The letter told of an older Hispanic resident so frightened by the MCSO officers who'd stopped him that he couldn't stop shaking. Another Hispanic man was stopped by the MCSO and (just as Guzman also described) was told his brake lights weren't working. After the stop, Bernasconi said, she watched as the man stepped on his brakes to test the lights.
"They were working just fine!" she wrote. "If this isn't harassment, I don't know what is!"
Bernasconi detailed how her nephew, also an American citizen, was pulled over by an "unmarked Ford blazer" and threatened with $1,200 in fines by a deputy. Clearly, it was a case of racial profiling, she fumed.
Under the cover of such petty traffic stops, the MCSO sought to question detainees about their immigration status. As Phoenix Mayor Gordon said in an interview with New Times after the Guadalupe operation, the parts of the Valley picked for MCSO sweeps have been where folks' complexions are closer in color to copper than ivory. (This, of course, was before Arpaio tried to save face by conducting a sweep in Fountain Hills.)
"Arpaio's chosen these areas because that's where the illegal immigrants are," insisted Gordon. "That's where the Hispanic community is — 36th Street and Thomas, Cave Creek and Bell, Guadalupe. Those are predominantly minority, predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods."
Gordon is correct in his assessment of the MCSO's strategy in terrorizing these communities. But one reason the strategy backfired in Guadalupe is that nearly everybody in the town is either Mexican-American or Native American, specifically Yaqui. In the 2000 census, only 13.9 percent of Guadalupe residents identified themselves as foreign-born. Many in Guadalupe can trace their families back several generations to the city's founders, and the town's denizens are, in general, less transient than other residents of Maricopa County. It is not uncommon, for instance, to hear of Guadalupanos who still reside in the same house where they grew up.
In other words, Arpaio and his minions were messing with American citizens who have a strong sense of identity and place.
The Yaquis were some of the fiercest fighters the Mexican government faced in its history and have been referred to by some as "the Apaches of Mexico." Yaquis who fled persecution around the turn of the 19th century established several communities in Arizona and sent guns and ammunition to their homeland so that their kinfolk could continue to battle Mexican troops.
The bloodlines and cultures of the Mexican-American and Yaqui communities have mixed in Guadalupe. Family bonds are tightly interwoven. Attempts by neighboring Tempe to swallow Guadalupe resulted in the city's incorporation in 1975. Outside forces such as the MCSO are tolerated, as long as they don't overstep their bounds, as was done during the sweep on April 3 and 4.
History helps explain why ordinary Guadalupanos were so irate at the sheriff's heavy-handed presence. At the protest in front of the Family Dollar late on April 3, residents accused Town Council members and the mayor of allowing the MCSO to perform the anti-immigrant dragnet. City leaders denied the accusations, and the mayor distributed to the news media her press release, which said "the sweep is not supported by the Guadalupe Town Council."
Authored in part by former Town Manager Jose Solarez, whose daughter Alma Yolanda Solarez is currently a council member, the four-paragraph release concluded, "We are asking the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to cease their operation immediately."
In general, council members seemed shell-shocked by the quick escalation of events.
"It looks like they got caught off-guard," observed Alfredo Gutierrez that evening as he watched council members explain themselves to the crowd. "They didn't know what the heck was going on."
Nor did they know the most insidious episode in the sweep was yet to come.
It's often remarked that Guadalupe has the feel of a sleepy border town. And there is a certain charm to the place that's impossible to find elsewhere in the Valley. The town clings stubbornly to a proud heritage that involves famous Lenten and Easter ceremonies by Pascua Yaqui "deer dancers." The dances interweave the Christianity taught Yaquis by Jesuit priests with their native religion, which honors the deer as sacred.
As then-ASU student Leah Glaser, now a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, documented in her 1996 master's thesis, The Story of Guadalupe, Arizona: The Survival and Preservation of a Yaqui Community, Yaqui refugees in Arizona "kept a low profile for fear of deportation and harsh retaliation by the Mexican government." For this reason, many "adopted the identities of other Indians or Mexicans who worked alongside them in the fields." Yaquis took Spanish surnames, and conversed in Spanish. The two groups have intermarried. In the 2000 census, 72.3 percent of the population identified itself as Hispanic or Latino. And 44.2 percent of Guadalupanos identified themselves as Native American, indicating an overlap.
The central plaza and surrounding homes are referred to as La Cuarenta, the first 40 acres around which present-day Guadalupe developed. Actually, the original Yaqui town was where the Guadalupe cemetery survives today, a mile or so northeast of the town on South Beck Road, just off Baseline. It's now well hidden by a housing development, a ghostly echo of modern-day Guadalupe's near-encirclement by Tempe.
At the heart of La Cuarenta, on the dirt and gravel plaza, are two main houses of worship, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the Yaqui Temple, sometimes referred to as Santa Lucia or just El Templo. The adobe structures, with their eggshell-white exteriors, mirror and complement each other. The Mission-style Our Lady of Guadalupe boasts simple stained-glass windows, creaky, wooden pews, and a charming cupola situated behind towers topped by crosses. Santa Lucia is more mysterious, with a Mission-style exterior, an open, dirt-floor interior, strewn with flower petals, and a back altar crowded with candles and effigies of saints, including the ersatz head of John the Baptist — on a platter no less.
It was on the plaza in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe that the April 4 confirmation of about 70 of the town's children took place, in a ceremony presided over by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, head of the Phoenix diocese. But what was meant to be a day of holy sacrament became one of anxiety, said the church's religious education coordinator, Mary Lu Ramirez. The children had been preparing for a year to be confirmed in their faith. Ramirez explained that at least four, maybe five, steered clear of the event because they were afraid the MCSO would collar their parents.
"When we were doing the setup, that's when we started getting calls," remembered Ramirez. "[The children] let us know they weren't going to make it because of the sweeps the night before. They were afraid to come, afraid that their parents were going to be deported if they were caught or pulled over."
News cameras gathered at the plaza. Some TV crews thought a town meeting was about to take place, but Ramirez explained that it was a confirmation, planned long in advance. As she spoke to one reporter, she could see Sheriff's Office SUVs circling the plaza. An MCSO helicopter sputtered menacingly in the distance.
"Even the gentleman who was supposed to decorate the stage didn't show up because he was afraid he was going to be pulled over and taken," Ramirez said.
Church deacon Santino Bernasconi said some children had to be smuggled into the ceremony.
"People from the community who are citizens went and got them," Bernasconi said. "The children came in the car as if they were the kids of the driver."
Bernasconi also recalled the MCSO helicopter overhead. It hovered over the plaza, breaking off about 30 minutes before the ceremony began at 7 p.m. With TV journalists at the edge of the plaza filming and sheriff's deputies patrolling nearby, Ramirez said, people felt threatened.
"You could feel the tension," said Ramirez. "Instead of being a very spiritual ceremony, everybody was just looking over their shoulders wondering if the [deputies] were going to show up [at the church]. They did cruise around as the ceremony was going on. You could see them just going around the plaza. I did notice that parents, instead of concentrating on the service, kept looking around as the cars went by.
"I felt disappointed for the [children who] didn't come," said Ramirez of those not confirmed. "They were all looking forward to it. It was sad, kind of heartbreaking. And those were good kids, too. They were all into it and looking forward to doing their confirmation. They were excited and happy. They were getting ready to do one of the biggest sacraments in life, and they couldn't do it."
Both Ramirez and Bernasconi said the children would be able to receive confirmation at another church. Nearly a month later, Bernasconi remained indignant about the MCSO's actions.
"It was a reign of terror!" he said of the sheriff's two-day sweep. "Our people, going through this, have a better idea of what the Jews went through in Nazi Germany."
Ramirez, too, remained incensed by the MCSO's intrusion.
"I felt like it was basically a publicity stunt for Arpaio," Ramirez said. "He really didn't have to do that. Especially here in this little town. To come into a town like this where it's normally quiet and everybody knows everybody . . . This is an Andy Griffith, Mayberry sort of town."
Like almost everyone in Guadalupe, Ramirez has a relative who was stopped by the MCSO during the dragnet — her daughter. Ramirez's daughter was pulled over by a deputy who told her that her license-plate light wasn't bright enough. He ended up giving the grown woman, an American citizen, a stern warning.
"Now, how ridiculous was that?" asked Ramirez. "My daughter kept saying, 'This is so unreal!'"
Bishop Olmsted's take on the sheriff's raid was rather meek.
"He feels the whole situation is sad," said diocese spokesman Jim Dwyer. "He's very consistent in terms of the dignity of life, and that's all life. He believes in the dignity of all human beings. And he's always made a point of that whenever asked about the situation with respect to immigration."
Deacon Bernasconi was more passionate. He insisted that he didn't buy the MCSO's line that the aggressive two-day dragnet was about immigration enforcement.
"If that were so important, why hasn't Arpaio been doing that for two years now?" he wondered. "Why all of a sudden, and in such a noisy way, with elections in November?"
Even before Arpaio's April 3 debacle, there was a move by Santino and Socorro Bernasconi, among others, to replace the MCSO as Guadalupe's law enforcement agency.
Santino Bernasconi said the effort began as far back as October 2007 and was driven by the community's increasing dissatisfaction with the job the MCSO was doing in Guadalupe. Options were studied, including Guadalupe's developing its own police force, contracting with another law enforcement agency, or negotiating better service from the MCSO. The work of what's now referred to as the Guadalupe Public Safety Committee proceeded slowly until April 3.
Mayor Jimenez's public confrontation with the sheriff on that night became a watershed moment for the town. And like a man who only knows how to double-down on a bet, Arpaio followed up on his April 3 threat to put the town on notice. The sheriff informed Jimenez in an April 18 letter that he was giving Guadalupe 180 days' written notice to "study and research the law enforcement needs of the community and explore other law enforcement alternatives."
But the Board of Supervisors must approve any such rescinding of the MCSO's contract with the town, and, so far, no item to do so has been placed on the supervisors' agenda, said board spokeswoman Deanne Poulos.
"I'll never give up hope that fences can be mended [between the MCSO and Guadalupe]," said Lieutenant Shepherd. "I think the door's always going to be open to them."
As touching as this sentiment might seem, it's unlikely that these proverbial fences will be repaired, because town officials are unwilling to crawl back into Arpaio's good graces. Such a concession would entail having to do exactly what Arpaio orders and refraining from criticizing him ever again, something town officials seem loath to guarantee.
Also, considering Arpaio's penchant for personalizing issues, the town would no doubt have to remove its rebellious mayor to placate the sheriff.
"I want nothing to do with [Mayor Jimenez] and the little town of Guadalupe," Arpaio told the news media recently.
Negotiation with enemies, no matter how newfound, is not a tactic beloved of Maricopa County's senior lawman. Because Jimenez and Guadalupe have embarrassed him — forced him to justify his actions and defend himself against charges of racial profiling — he wants to cut an 18-year tie with the town that puts $1.2 million a year into MCSO coffers during a time of county budget shortfalls.
Relations between Guadalupe and the MCSO were not always so strained.
Mark Johnson, recently demoted from his post as acting town manager partly because of his support of the Sheriff's Office, said Guadalupe entered into a contract with the MCSO on July 1, 1990. During the mid- and late-1980s, Guadalupe had a police force of about eight men, but the tiny department was disbanded after a scandal involving the police chief and other officers' planting heroin on suspects to get drug convictions.
Those framed went to prison and later sued the city for false imprisonment and violation of their civil rights. As a result, the city could no longer afford liability insurance and opted to enter into an agreement with the MCSO for police protection. The MCSO, then headed up by Sheriff Tom Agnos, came with its own insurance.
"The sheriff's department, at that time, was very cooperative," said Jose Solarez, Guadalupe's town manager from 1987 to 1991.
The MCSO was a welcome change from the Guadalupe PD, given the corruption that had plagued the municipal police force. But Solarez has seen the community's attitude toward the MCSO change to one of general dissatisfaction. The widespread perception is that Arpaio's MCSO is arrogant, hostile to residents, and unresponsive to complaints.
One problem Guadalupe residents cite is the MCSO's response time. The Sheriff's Office's own statistics show average response times of five minutes to well over 30 minutes during the past year and a half, depending on the seriousness of the call. But nearly everyone who spoke for this article had a story of making a 911 call that was either not responded to at all or not responded to in a timely manner.
The complaints were largely anecdotal and involved everything from loose dogs and courtesy checks on seniors to nighttime hit-and-runs and intruder alerts. Perhaps the most egregious example was vaguely cited as a pretext for the sheriff's sweep in Guadalupe. The MCSO's April 3 press release mentioned a recent "armed robbery," implying that illegal aliens may have been involved.
The only recent armed robbery mentioned in the MCSO's monthly reports to the Guadalupe Town Council occurred March 18 at the Circle B convenience store on Avenida del Yaqui. Two suspects in masks and gloves displayed a gun, and the clerk handed over about $300. Betty Mar, the proprietor of the store, said she believed the robbers were locals, not illegal aliens. Though a silent alarm was tripped, it took deputies 40 minutes to respond to the incident, she said. By then, of course, the suspects were long gone.
Lieutenant Shepherd denied that the response time was 40 minutes on that call, but he admitted that it took too long for deputies to arrive.
One issue is that Guadalupe sometimes shares its deputies with other, unincorporated areas of Maricopa County. It's a situation the town is unhappy with.
Even council member Frankie Montiel, who seems more supportive of the MCSO than his colleagues, has found fault with the arrangement.
"One call we had involved loose dogs inside the Frank Elementary School," said Montiel, the sole Yaqui tribal member on the council. "It took them 48 minutes to get there because they were out at Sun Lakes on another call."
Response time is not the only gripe the town has had against the MCSO. Council member Alma Yolanda Solarez mentioned the town's problem with drivers speeding through the city and through stop signs on their way to parts of Tempe. Semi-trucks also go through town unimpeded, she said, despite ordinances restricting them. She also said she felt there had been little improvement in the MCSO's dealing with the drug and gang activity in the town.
"Arpaio's been here, what, 18 years?" said Solarez. "And the community remains the same. There's no progress."
Aggravating the strained relationship between the sheriff and Guadalupe are accusations that Arpaio's MCSO has been insensitive toward the town's citizenry, has directed foul language at older Guadalupanos, and has physically assaulted citizens for no good reason. All this before April 3.
Several incidents described by residents during council meetings and elsewhere have involved MCSO Deputy Jim Carey.
"They were complaining because he was arresting people, mostly on warrants," Shepherd said. "That's exactly what we pay him to do. I'd say he's doing his job."
New Times has made public-records requests for Carey's personnel file and many other MCSO documents relating to this story. There has been no response from MCSO public-information officer Paul Chagolla.
Perhaps the best-documented incident involving Carey occurred on June 1 of last year and was witnessed by Mayor Jimenez, who was not yet on the council. ASU student Nelson Medina said Carey lunged at his throat after ordering Medina to leave an area where he had been watching MCSO deputies arrest someone.
"Right away, as a reaction, I was going to get his hands off my throat," Medina told New Times. "He took me to the station. He said, 'You're getting a ticket for assaulting an officer.' After he had me in there, he said he was going to give me a disorderly conduct citation."
Ultimately, the Guadalupe Municipal Court dismissed the case at the request of the prosecutor after Medina agreed to pay court costs and restitution.
Another incident occurred last fall when an MCSO deputy, gun drawn, allegedly entered the house of a resident, searched for a suspect, and ultimately kicked down the door to a child's bedroom. Those familiar with the search, which did not net a suspect, said the MCSO refused to pay for the broken door.
One more example took place a few years ago and was videotaped by a foreign camera crew on a ride-along with MCSO deputies. A relative of one of those arrested showed the video to New Times on the condition that the names of those in it not be published.
In the video, three deputies pull over three teens in a car with a cracked tail light. The stop occurs in front of the teens' home. As deputies question the 15-year-old driver (who'd been driving the car without a license), the grandmother of the teens approaches and asks what's going on. She's told that the 15-year-old is being questioned. The grandmother goes to wait with a 16-year-old passenger (her granddaughter), who is now standing next to the car.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a deputy grabs the 16-year-old's arm and pulls her. The grandmother reaches out, almost instinctively, to her granddaughter. Another deputy takes hold of the grandmother from behind and slams her against the hood of the car. Both the teen and her grandmother are arrested. The deputy drags the teen to the back of a patrol car, and then admonishes her grandmother.
"Why are you arresting me?" asks the grandmother. "I've never been arrested before."
The deputy snarls, "You're going to jail! You don't come out and interfere with me."
Lieutenant Shepherd said he has never seen the video but is aware it exists. Questioned about the overreaction captured on videotape, he continued to defend his deputies, alleging that it was actually the grandmother who overreacted by "jumping on the deputy."
However, in the videotape, the grandmother does not jump on anyone.
Many residents accuse the MCSO of hassling residents who are partaking in traditional Yaqui ceremonies.
"When we have our wakes at home, when somebody dies here, everybody here is doing things traditional," said Ismael Osuna, a Yaqui member of the Guadalupe Public Safety Committee. "There've been some incidents where sheriff's deputies have gone in thinking it's a party and disrespecting people. They aren't trained about our culture."
As Councilwoman Patty Jimenez pointed out, whether coming from Yaqui or Mexican American residents, the town's grumblings about the MCSO cannot be dismissed as the complaints of a few.
"Guadalupe's a small town," said Jimenez, cousin of Mayor Rebecca Jimenez. "Many of us are related somehow. And it just seems like every family has a story about the service that the sheriff's department has given us. It's just not very good service."
Since Mayor Jimenez stood up to Arpaio in a televised argument that can be watched online in Channel 12's video archives, she's been lionized by those opposing the sheriff and demonized by those supporting him. In countless e-mails, she has been chastised and praised.
"You stupid broad," e-mailed Jim Webb. "When are you and the rest of those dumb shits down there going to wise up? You are worse than a bunch of god dam [sic] communists. If you like these invaders so much, why don't you move to Mexico and take as many as these dregs as you can carry."
Other e-mailers called her a "fat pig," and one warned that Guadalupe is "doomed" to Biblical destruction.
"I shall read your newspapers in six months to see if any of you is still alive," warned Melody Lavers.
Nolan Phillip spewed this electronic insult: "Screw the wetback town of Guadalupe! I wouldn't buy a stick of gum in your trash town."
But Jimenez has earned her share of laurels, even in the wake of a recent incident in which she was pulled over by an MCSO deputy in Guadalupe and cited for an inoperable headlight, as well as for not having proof of registration and insurance.
Commenting on Jimenez's April 3 defiance of the sheriff, Lydia Guzman of Respect/Respeto gave the mayor high points:
"I thought the mayor was heroic. If I'd had an ability to make a Superman suit, I would have made one for her right there.
"You know, it takes a lot of guts to stand up to the sheriff," she continued. "The guy is rude. Even for folks who have all their talking points in order, it's hard to get into a shouting match with someone who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. What she did, is say, 'Not in my town, and not on my watch.' I don't think he had anyone [ever] stand up to him that way. Bravo for her."
The attention and the scrutiny have been overwhelming for the 36-year-old mother of four, who's working on her bachelor's degree at ASU (in biology and Chicano studies) and receives only a $300-per-month stipend for her work on the council. (Regular council members receive $200 a month.)
She isn't wealthy and has no entourage or PR advisers, as the mayor of Phoenix does. Suddenly, because of her defiance of the sheriff, she's being interviewed one day by playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith for inclusion in a future one-woman performance by Smith. The next day she's being vilified, with TV reporters trespassing in her front yard to get a better shot of the car she was driving when she was ticketed.
"That whole thing was blown way out of proportion," said Jimenez of the headlight kerfuffle. "I never said I was being racially profiled. And I have every intention of taking care of the ticket."
She didn't have to say she was racially profiled because many immigrant rights activists said it for her.
As any journalist who's waited weeks or months for a police report from the MCSO knows, the sheriff's flacks turned over the police report on Jimenez in record time. It was in the hands of reporters within 24 hours after the citing — which signals that the small-town politician now joins many other public officials, political foes, supporters of political opponents, and journalists on the sheriff's enemies list.
Quite a feat for a newbie public servant who's been in office less than six months and who hasn't decided whether she'll continue in local government or go to dental or law school.
"This gig as mayor, I tell people, is just part of the journey to where I'm supposed to end up," she said. "There are times when I've thought about resigning, but I've never been a quitter in my life."
Arguably, it was Jimenez's act of defiance that started Arpaio on the road to widespread derision. He's facing more negative public opinion than ever, the threat of a federal investigation, and mounting criticism from other elected officials emboldened by Jimenez's bravery.
Yet the skullduggery of small-town politics is ongoing. Jimenez and her allies maintain a slim 4-3 majority on the Town Council. Her cousin, Patricia Jimenez, faces a recall election in September over what seem like relatively petty, personality-based issues. If her cousin loses the recall, the mayor will face a council vote to demote her to councilwoman (the mayor of the town is elected by and from the council).
There also has been talk of recalling the mayor, though petitions cannot circulate until June, according to state law. Outsiders to Guadalupe politics may be bewildered by the fact that the faction considering the mayor's recall also opposes the sheriff. Unsubstantiated rumor, jealousy, and small-time rivalries seem to be driving the local conflict.
For example, in a letter to all town residents announcing a May 4 Sunday meeting at Our Lady of Guadalupe to discuss alternatives to the MCSO, Deacon Bernasconi attacked Mayor Jimenez, stating:
"You are probably aware that the mayor of Guadalupe made a threat to Sheriff Arpaio that Guadalupe was going to terminate the contract with the sheriff's department. Unfortunately, the mayor spoke without thinking. Elective officials should not make drastic decisions without thinking of the consequences and without having a plan first."
Informed that it was the other way around — based on Arpaio's videotaped meltdown on April 3 — Bernasconi admitted that he hadn't been present at the verbal donnybrook or seen Channel 12's online footage of it. He said he based his statements on information given to him by others.
In fact, the footage reveals that Mayor Jimenez was calm and respectful compared to Arpaio, and it was clearly Arpaio who threatened Jimenez.
"If you don't like the way I operate," Arpaio told her, "you go get your own police department. You've got 90 days to cancel your contract — 90 days! You wanna cancel it, feel free to."
The threat from Arpaio was, if the mayor didn't want deputies harassing the town's brown-skinned citizenry, she must find some other agency to patrol its streets.
"We'll look into that," Mayor Jimenez replied before walking away.
Jimenez telephoned Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that night, and met with him later in April to see what sort of letter Phoenix would need from Guadalupe to review the prospect of providing police protection for the town.
Jimenez narrowly escaped a vote of no-confidence on May 21, when three council members called a Town Council meeting and placed the reconsideration of the mayor's and vice mayor's positions on the agenda. The tiny council chambers were filled with TV cameras expecting something dramatic. About a minute into the proceedings, Jimenez, citing the illness and hospitalization of council member Patricia Jimenez's father, moved that the agenda be tabled and the meeting adjourned. The ayes had it, 4-3.
(As this story went to press, council members opposed to Jimenez were pushing for another no-confidence vote.)
An activist affiliated with Rusty Childress' anti-immigrant organization, United for a Sovereign America, was at the meeting and has been present at all Town Council meetings since April 3. He denied that he was spying for nativists, but there's no doubt that Childress and assorted Arpaio backers are cheering the squabbling in Guadalupe and the attempted removal of Mayor Jimenez.
Because of the spin that could be put on it.
"Oh, yeah, they'll take this kind of info and they'll run with it," said Respect/Respeto's Guzman. "They'll probably turn around and say, 'See, the people of Guadalupe want us there!' Which is shit."
Indeed, if Rebecca Jimenez is removed as Guadalupe's mayor or is successfully recalled, Arpaio and his nativist supporters are poised to scream victory. And yet, the effort against Mayor Jimenez, like the effort against Patty Jimenez, has more to do with Guadalupe's factional, sometimes PTA-like politics. Bad blood continues over unrelated issues, like the erection of a three-story apartment complex near the entrance to the town at Avenida del Yaqui and Calle Cerritos, or the simple fact that two members of the same family are on the council.
But despite the council's squabbling, the majority is united on one point: It wants Joe Arpaio's MCSO out of the tiny town.
What might be lost with the infighting is the recognition and influence Guadalupe has garnered by resisting Arpaio's bullying.
It wasn't just the mayor who took a stand, but the whole town, including those at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Centro de Amistad, the Town Council, and average residents who wouldn't allow their small, proud community to be used as part of Arpaio's bid for re-election.
Guadalupe's rebellion is now renowned nationwide, and Arpaio's sweep there is regularly mentioned as an egregious example of the heavy-handed tactics of the MCSO.
"The mayor of Guadalupe implored [Arpaio] to leave her community alone," the New York Times stated in its editorial Immigration, Outsourced. "State and county officials have pointed out that Sheriff Joe has ignored tens of thousands of outstanding criminal warrants while chasing day laborers and headlines. They say he has grossly violated the terms of his 287(g) agreement — which calls for federal oversight of local police — and have called on Washington to rein him in."
During his recent 10-day, pro-immigrant walk from Tucson to the state Capitol in Phoenix, Texas human rights activist Jay Johnson-Castro made a stop in Guadalupe to show solidarity with the people there.
"This is the Selma, Alabama, of 2008," declared Johnson-Castro during a rally in Guadalupe's open-air Mercado. "This is ground zero for the immigration debate."
And as part of a conversation with New Times last month, Phoenix Mayor Gordon insisted he remained ready to help Guadalupe in its fight.
"It would have to go through an evaluation process," Gordon said of aiding the town. "But if the city manager and the police chief recommend it, then certainly I would support it."
Gordon spoke of a spectrum of options, including the involvement of more than one agency or the possibility of a retired Phoenix police commander or some other former Phoenix officer taking over the job of policing the community. He cited the high marks ex-Phoenix Assistant Police Chief Michael Frazier received when Frazier took over the El Mirage police department from the MCSO and revamped the department in six months' time.
"There isn't a professional agency that's going to let Guadalupe or any town or city go without public safety," Gordon said. "All those criminals that would terrorize that town would terrorize Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert. Save for Arpaio's agency, all the other agencies work and train together. So the professionals will come up with a solution."
Contrary to Lieutenant Shepherd's insistence that Guadalupe officials are welcome to return to the MCSO, sheriff's Commander Tim Campbell informed Gordon in a hand-delivered missive last month that the county agency "will gladly walk away from the town" and throw Phoenix the keys to the substation on its way out.
Such a cavalier attitude doesn't bode well for the safety of Guadalupanos or for the rest of the Valley as long as the MCSO is keeping watch.
Guadalupe is no murder capital. According to the MCSO, it hasn't had a homicide in at least the past year and a half. However, the Arizona Department of Public Safety's GITEM (Gang Intelligence and Team Enforcement Mission) task force has identified a concentration of six gangs with more than 160 members in Guadalupe. The gangs could use the town as a staging area for illegal activities if the municipality is left unprotected.
"It would pretty much be a town held hostage if there's no one down there trying to keep anyone in check," said GITEM Detective Jim Hill, whose squad has been working in Guadalupe for several months. "I would assume that if nobody takes the contract, it will either revert back to the state or the county. Just because the sheriff says he's [breaking the contract], I don't think he can abandon part of the county. But [Guadalupe] wouldn't have dedicated resources."
So even if you don't live in Guadalupe, Arpaio's overkill there and his instinctive need to retaliate against the tiny community by promising to abrogate his contractual obligations, is threatening.
Arpaio's peculiar pathology is that he persists in his folly, no matter how wantonly self-destructive. Already, Maricopa County's top cop has kissed off the $1.2 million contract with the town, wasted $20,000 on a Guadalupe sweep that further alienated townspeople from the MCSO, and garnered himself probes by the FBI, and, if the New York Times has its way, a congressional committee.
Arpaio's sweep in Guadalupe has also forced the hand of Arizona's notoriously milquetoast governor. Governor Napolitano didn't completely acknowledge that Guadalupe was a factor in her recent decision to pull $1.6 million in immigration funds from Arpaio's coffers. But during her regular Wednesday press conference not long after the costly slap in the face to her former ally, Arpaio, she made this slippery, legalistic statement:
"To the extent that the sheriff was using state money to fund sweeps that were causing trepidation in the immigration community, that state money will no longer be available."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to stick by Arpaio, who has 160 federally trained 287(g) officers under a Memorandum of Agreement with ICE, but sometimes even ICE hedges its bets. ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard recently pointed out that ICE had nothing to do with the stops and arrests that the MCSO was making under state law.
"We have no oversight of how [the] Maricopa County Sheriff's Office conducts its state authority," Picard said.
Arpaio's response to it all has ranged from sounding hurt to appearing outright psychotic. It's forced him into damage-control mode: having his PR staff schedule long Q&As with local dailies, set up appearances on Sunday-evening radio shows to curry favor with moderates, seek donations from well-wishers to make up the $1.6 million the governor just ripped from his department's budget.
All so he can continue hunting Hispanics.
Even the MCSO's foray into Arpaio's backyard — white-bread Fountain Hills (where deputies managed to scrape up 16 suspected illegals in two days by halting nearly every old truck with landscaping equipment in it during the morning hours) — was tailor-made to refute the contention that Arpaio goes only into brown areas like Guadalupe.
"We don't go into certain neighborhoods, like people accuse me of doing, like the mayor of Phoenix [accuses him of doing]," the sheriff told reporters on the first day of the Fountain Hills operation. "We go everywhere!"
But Arpaio wouldn't have gone to Fountain Hills if it hadn't been for Guadalupe blowing up in his face. Nor would he have paused his anti-immigrant sweeps for four weeks. Or hesitated to march into Mesa and stick it to the Hispanic community there.
Guadalupe made Arpaio back down. And should Arpaio's forces blanket the Hispanic sections of Mesa or some other Valley town tomorrow, the sheriff will further compound the ill will he's created for himself and mobilize his opponents.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.