Employees of Phoenix New Times were greeted about 9:20 this morning by one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous female chain gangs working on the paper's property. Specifically, the nine-inmate crew was hoeing a vacant lot on the southeast corner of 1201 E. Jefferson Street, where New Times' offices are located. The visit comes a day after this newspaper published a cover article on the MCSO's links to neo-Nazis and nativist extremists.
After a staff member took photos of the unwanted visitors, New Times' security and building manager Natalia Perkins advised two female deputies guarding the prisoners that they were trespassing and ordered them off the lot. The deputies immediately complied. If they had not, Perkins was planning to contact the Phoenix Police Department.
"They said, `OK,' and started yelling, `Back it up, everybody!'" recounted Perkins. "Within five minutes, they were gone."
The incident calls to mind other events involving the Sheriff's Office attempting to intimidate New Times employees and executives, such as the arrests of Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin in October, 2007.
Asked about the chain gang's appearance on New Times property so close after the paper's running a story critical of the MCSO, Lacey stated that he did not believe the chain-gang visit was coincidence.
"This week we posted online and published details of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's repeated and ongoing relationships with neo-Nazis and extremist hate groups," noted Lacey. "Given his history of arresting critics, I am not surprised that he retaliated. Our staff arrived at work Friday morning and found Arpaio's chain gang spread out over our grounds.
"New Times is not headquartered in rural Alabama. The deputy in charge was promptly informed that they would not be 'shaking it here, boss.' Arpaio's detachment and the prisoners departed without further incident. Using incarcerated women to create political theater just underscores what Arpaio means when he calls himself `America's Toughest Sheriff.' What a bedwetter."
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Bolstering Lacey's take on the incident is the fact that, according to Perkins, Phoenix cops drive by the property on a regular basis to check in with her. Perkins says the police officers have never mentioned any problem with the vacant lot needing landscaping.
Indeed, according to David Ramirez, public Information officer for the City of Phoenix, enforcement of the city's neighborhood preservation ordinance involves a lengthy process by which a property owner has several opportunities, following written warnings, to bring a property into compliance. (Ramirez supplied New Times with a copy of the Neighborhood Services Department's code-enforcement policy regarding the ordinance, which you can read here.)
"A fine is generally a last resort," Ramirez says of the ordinance. "The goal [at the Neighborhood Services Department] is get people to comply."
Ramirez says NSD does not work with MCSO chain gangs. And New Times has received no complaints from the city regarding its property, according to security chief Perkins.