Just how many deputies does it take to protect Sheriff Joe Arpaio? 50? 100? 200? Yes, Arpaio did return to Guadalupe to address the town council Thursday night, almost a year after terrorizing Guadalupe with an immigration sweep on April 3 and 4 of 2008. But in doing so, he had to be protected with an overwhelming show of force that turned the town into a police state for the day.
I arrived early, around 3 p.m., because I was already hearing rumors that the MCSO was doing an anti-immigrant sweep. It may not have been an official "sweep," but at times, nearly every other car passing through the crossroads of Guadalupe Road and Avenida del Yaqui was a black and yellow sheriff's vehicle. (At least the yellow is appropriate.) A bomb squad van was parked right next to town hall. On a vacant lot owned by the city at the center of town, a massive mobile command center van was parked, with other sheriff's vehicles nearby.
Those vehicles sent a very definite message, that the sheriff was in town, and that the town was locked down. The Guadalupe Mercado, the open air market near the town hall was empty. One merchant who did not wish to be identified, said business was dead, way down from what it would usually be.
"I'm closing up early," he told me. "People are scared, so they're just staying home. This is killing my business."
Inside the town's main building, hours before Joe showed up, a team of at least 15 plainclothes MCSO were wandering the halls of the little municipal structure. Behind the building, in the alley leading to the MCSO's substation, sheriff's vehicles were jammed into the space, as many as 20 marked and unmarked cars. As I predicted in a previous blog, it was through here, through a passage that leads to the council chambers that Joe snuck in to address the council members. And it was back through this alley that he would leave.
Prior to the council meeting beginning, Joe's top PR flack, the gun moll-ish Lisa Allen, was practically running the place, moving things around, telling reporters where to sit or stand. I was surprised they let me in, to be honest, as MCSO had complete control of the facility, and was wanding down everyone who entered the building with metal detectors, including the press.
This overkill was the first thing Joe was questioned on after his shuck and jive about moving forward and putting the past behind them. Council member Margie Garcia leapt to query Joe on why he needed to bring an invading force with him to their small burg.
"Why did you come to the extreme of bringing the bomb squad, and all this other equipment that you brought here, which you've done in the past?" she asked before lecturing Arpaio about the town's religious ceremonies during Lent. "During this period of 40 days, the people here go into a prayer circle, because it's Lent. This type of thing [you're doing] is very...stressful to the community."
Later, she pressed Joe to promise not to have a similar show of force in the future like the one the town was currently enduring.
"That's not a promise I'm willing to make," Arpaio told her. "We received intelligence that there would be hundreds of demonstrators here. We are here to protect you and the people. We are the law enforcement of this town...I am responsible for the safety of this town. If I have to bring 200 deputies [and] posse to protect this town, I'm going to do it."
Actually, 200 deputies and posse is probably exactly what was in Guadalupe on Thursday. There were not nearly that many protesters, at least not before I left to get a good seat inside the council chambers. I counted about 25 on the side of the nativists, and about 50 to 75 on the anti-Joe side of the demonstrations. By 9 p.m., most people in Guadalupe were safely in their homes, and those unlucky enough to have to be out, were being pulled by MCSO vehicles, almost like a replay of last year this same time.
Not everyone was intimidated of course. Though the "minutemen" as the nativists are generically called by some, were heavily armed, and had the love of the MCSO, community activist Andrew Sanchez and his family led a small coalition of groups waving signs that said, "Stop Unconstitutional Practices," "We R Human," and, my fave, a stencil of Sheriff Joe saying, "I arrest pregnant moms." They waved American flags, and Yaqui flags. Played Mexican music through a loudspeaker, and traded barbs with the nativists.
As for the nativists, for the most part, they were members of United for a Sovereign America, Riders U.S.A., and Riders Against Illegal Aliens, but there were a few new faces in the crowd, along with convicted public urinator Buffalo Rick Galeener and the anti-Hispanic Hispanic Anna Gaines. I engaged some of these newbies in civil conversation, and explained facts unknown to them, such as: Guadalupe's residents are either Yaqui or Mexican or some mix of the two, and they are all citizens whose families have been in the town for generations. A few seemed perplexed by this info, including a tall, attractive lady named Melissa who told me she was of Cherokee descent. Hopefully, I gave them something to think about. Ditto for my uber-Republican friend Bob Haran, whom I like despite the fact that we both think the other's nuts on the subject of immigration.
Inside the council chambers, there were practically more news media than residents. The small space can only fit about 50 people, including council members. Plus there was plainclothes security in the room, guarding the doors. Those that couldn't get in had to listen from the lobby.
Andrew Sanchez was present when Arpaio showed around 7:30 p.m., and before Arpaio could speak, he rose and yelled that all of the council members should stand and walk out on Arpaio. When none of them did, Sanchez, whose family has been retaliated by Arpaio because of Sanchez's activism, left the room, telling the council members, "You know what it takes to get a recall."
As for Arpaio's comments, he gave them the, "Can't we all just get along," spiel. He thanked the council for inviting him, even though that invitation had only been extended by Mayor Frankie Montiel, his chief backer on the council. Arpaio made at stab at being civil, even slightly conciliatory. Granted, you can afford to be a teeny bit generous when you have 200 armed deputies holding your audience hostage.
"Setting politics aside," Arpaio told the council from the podium. "I do understand I might not be the most popular sheriff in town. But we've been here many, many years in Guadalupe. I know it's been difficult for you to obtain another law enforcement agency. In my heart, I cannot leave this town to the mercy of the criminals. I will not, regardless of politics, or anything else."
Mighty big of ol' Joe, don't you think? Especially after he had the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors kill the law enforcement contract because ex-Mayor Rebecca Jiminez stood up to Arpaio last April. Only after Mayor Montiel kowtowed to Arpaio, begging him to come back, did Arpaio agree to have the contract reinstated. I don't buy the idea that Montiel explored other options, but failed to find a replacement. Several of the council members, including former Vice Mayor Roy Perez have told me they felt other options were never fully explored.
Nor will Montiel seek a replacement for the MCSO, though the town's $1.2 million law-enforcement contract is set to expire in 2010. Montiel is a die-hard supporter of Arpaio, having called Arpaio's 2008 sweep of his town, "a good day for law enforcement," as he spoke to the Board of Supervisors last year. During the council meeting, he was obsequious to the point of nausea, coming to Joe's defense, praising him for coming to talk to them, interrupting other council members if they were critical of Joe, and so on.
Council members Lupita Avelar, Roy Perez, and Margie Garcia all had tough questions and comments for the sheriff. But it was former Mayor Rebecca Jimenez who seemed to draw the most blood in her barbed queries.
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"The optimist in me wants to believe that the olive branch you're extending is for real," said Jiminez at one point. "But the realist in me is believing that it's coming up on the one-year anniversary, and now you're under federal investigation, and this is a positive light on you that's, `Look at me, I'm forgiving Guadalupe, and I'm going to help Guadalupe.' What do you say to that?"
Joe was clearly caught off guard, insisting that his visit to Guadalupe had been finalized long before the announcement of a Justice Department probe. He wallowed for a moment in fit of self-rationalization.
"I've been a federal official in the Justice Department for many, many years," stated Arpaio. "I know how the federal government operates. I've been saying for a year, come on down. [In] every newscast, bring the FBI down, bring the feds down, we have nothing to hide. I welcome the federal government. Think I'm concerned about it?"
That's good, Joe, because the DOJ did have an observer from L.A. present Thursday observing the horse and pony show this time 'round. Of course, maybe that explains why Joe was on his best behavior, thus proving council member Jimenez's point.