During a recent hearing at the Arizona House over Maricopa County’s elections fiasco, chaired by state Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita, there was more podium-pounding and fist-pumping than at a pro-Bernie Sanders pajama party.
People rightly were pissed that they had to stand in long lines to vote in the recent presidential preference primary, where Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump handily won their respective contests, just like most everyone figured they would.
Republican Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and her staff admittedly goofed up by consolidating polling places by more than half. As a result, Purcell has been subjected to the sort of public humiliation normally reserved for moms who mistakenly leave their kids in hot cars.
At the hearing, one guy identifying himself as Andrew Cameron lashed out at Purcell, demanding that she or someone pay for his heartache.
“I was robbed of my vote,” he stated, enraged. “This is a serious crime. This is as serious as rape. It is as serious as murder! Because this is the rape and murder of our democracy.”
I know some folks would feel better if Purcell committed seppuku or threw herself off Camelback Mountain. But we have bigger problems in Maricopa County.
Specifically, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, real rape, and the reality that voters have doubled down on Arpaio’s corruption and abuse year after year.
Arpaio’s latest victim is a 21-year-old man who was in the central intake of the notorious Fourth Avenue Jail recently after his arrest on an FTA, or “failure to appear” warrant.
An FTA is what happens when you promise to appear in court in lieu of getting arrested on a low-level offense and then don’t show up for whatever reason. FTA warrants are common, hardly worth getting killed or raped over.
That said, you easily could get murdered or raped in Arpaio’s jails if you’re brought in on a minor matter such as an FTA.
In some ways, this young man, whose name I will not use, was lucky, in the sense that he was not killed in a beat-down by his guards or his fellow prisoners. Nor was he misdiagnosed for an ailment and ignored until he croaked.
New Times has written about such deaths in Joe’s jails for decades, but county voters have approved of Arpaio's brutality again and again, in fair elections with undisputed results, despite this newspaper’s numerous exposés of Joe’s inhumane incarceration practices and despite the cost of the many resultant lawsuits.
But I digress.
According to court documents, the 21-year-old was placed “in a medical holding facility cell in the Intake Medical Clinic of the Fourth Avenue Jail” with Jason Gregory, a repeat offender with mental-health issues.
Gregory, 33, has done time for stealing some watches from a local Target and attempting to sell one shortly thereafter in a nearby restaurant.
In another incident, when police went to pat him down after detaining Gregory, the ex-con tried to slug one officer. Cops had to deploy a stun gun to gain his compliance.
He had about 50 pounds and an inch or two in height on his alleged sexual assault victim, according to court records.
A probable-cause statement authored by MCSO detectives says Gregory pulled down the other man’s pants and sexually assaulted him at least four times.
The victim “advised jail-crimes detectives that he did not consent,” and was afraid to yell “for fear of getting beat up.”
The holding cell was supposed to have been monitored. Maybe everyone was on a smoke break.
Gregory has since been hit by the county with seven felony counts of sexual assault.
For those of you inclined to blame the victim, imagine a 20-something sibling or an adult child of yours in the same position. Then talk to me.
If the victim was raped, at least he is alive, which is more than can be said for the long line of dead souls who have emanated from Arpaio’s vast incarceration complex over his 23-year reign.
They include: Army veteran Marty Atencio, attacked and killed by guards in Fourth Avenue Jail for no good reason; Felix Torres, who received the wrong medication for an ulcer and ended up vomiting excrement and dying; and diabetic mom Deborah Braillard, who endured an excruciating death, mocked by her jailers, as she was denied proper treatment by MCSO staff.
These names just scratch the surface, as regular readers of this paper know.
I remember one of the first times I ever asked Arpaio about unnecessary jail deaths. He just shrugged.
“People die in the jails,” he replied.
It was as if he were asking, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
The lawsuits resulting from Joe’s brutality and incompetence have cost county taxpayers about $75 million.
That’s not including the cost of Arpaio’s racial profiling, the price tag to defend it, or the reforms imposed by the federal court.
Last July, I reported that all of Arpaio’s shenanigans have cost the county nearly $250 million, enough to force the county Board of Supervisors to raise property taxes to keep up.
The only thing that changes are the dollar amounts. Otherwise, the voters have been shrugging right along with Joe all these years.
Back to the recent elections imbroglio. On this topic, County Supervisor Steve Chucri recently opined, in reference to the presidential preference contest, that the “Maricopa County brand failed.”
Chucri should take that comedy act on the road. Maricopa County’s brand has been toxic for a long time, in large part because of Arpaio and his perennial corruption, which the county electorate has been a-okay with.
At this point, I’m far too cynical to buy that a majority of the electorate really wants to do the right thing this year when it comes to Arpaio, who is running for his seventh term.
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The one institution I still have some faith in is the judiciary, which is less driven by the passion of the moment and knows the difference between a real rape and a poor metaphor for one.
If we get any justice this year, it will come from the quill of federal Judge G. Murray Snow, whose decision in Arpaio’s contempt trial could come any day now.
Snow’s likely referral of Arpaio for criminal-contempt charges in the civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio may challenge county voters to act.
But pardon me if I just take what justice Snow levies rather than hope for the voters of Maricopa County to wise up, after lo these too many years.