Joe Strikes Back
It's been obvious to The Bird for a long time that Sheriff Joe Arpaio despises New Times. Why else would he violate the Arizona public records law by keeping documents about pertinent activities to taxpayers hidden from the public? Why else would he deny New Times writers access to his press conferences, in obvious violation of our First Amendment rights?
Why else would he spend two and a half years seeking New Times' criminal prosecution for publishing his home address on the Internet, when his home address is published in cyberspace in numerous public documents? That New Times holds a special place in Sheriff Joe's hard heart became apparent this week when we received a threat from the Pinal County Attorney's Office that it would seek a felony indictment against this publication unless we agree to remove the address from our Web site and never to publish the address of a peace officer in cyberspace again.
You can discern our answer on the cover of this newspaper's print edition. To make the point that we will not be intimidated, we are sending the sheriff a Christmas card.
Arpaio's wanting to intimidate us should be no surprise. We filed a lawsuit to obtain a wide range of public records from his office in October 2004 that is still pending, and we have been criticizing the treatment of prisoners in his jails for a decade. The self-described "toughest sheriff in America" is paranoid enough to believe he has more than enough reasons to go after us. His claim that our publication of his address on our Web site has put him at risk is just so much hooey.
Arpaio's a public official who, for as long as he's been in office, has run around all over the county opening the likes of the Pink Taco restaurant, and yet he's continually carped that somebody's out to kill him. He set up his Threat Assessment Squad because he's reputedly scared of his own shadow, while at the same time never missing a photo-op. So judge for yourself: Is he really afraid, or is it all a ploy to get TV cameras to come on down?
One thing's for sure: He's got a vindictive streak. He never forgets a slight, and New Times has been challenging him with in-depth stories about his shenanigans since he showed up on the public landscape. Back in the day, he was known as Nickel-Bag Joe (so nicknamed by fellow officers when he was a DEA agent, because he was known for making so many chicken-shit busts).
Fast-forward to the summer of 2004, when Nickel-Bag Joe complained to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office that former New Times writer John Dougherty published his home address in a story headlined "Stick It To 'Em" (July 8, 2004). He alleged this violated a state law that prohibits publishing the home addresses of peace officers in cyberspace (a law that oddly doesn't prohibit publication of them in print journals). After he assumed office, County Attorney Andrew Thomas reviewed the matter and apparently concluded that he had a conflict of interest because his office must represent the sheriff's office, and the sheriff is the "victim" in this situation.
The case was referred to Pinal County Attorney Robert Carter Olson, whose office has handled such conflict-of-interest cases for Maricopa County in the past. The news that Pinal County would seek an indictment unless New Times agreed to its demands came when our attorney, Steve Suskin, took a call from Olson's office. Not long after, Deputy Pinal County Attorney Bradley M. Soos' formal letter of intent to prosecute New Times corporately landed on our doorstep: "The Office respects the important and constitutionally-protected rights of a free press, but we are obligated to carefully balance those rights against the legitimate safety concerns of law enforcement officers and their families."
Bradley, hang on to that word "legitimate," because The Bird will demonstrate that your office's concern is hardly that.
Did this winged wordsmith mention that the punishment for violating this law is a maximum fine of $1 million? That Pinal County prosecutors would first have to win a conviction using a state law that's shot full of legal holes? That prosecutors would have to prove that (in the language of the law) "the dissemination of the personal information poses an imminent and serious threat" to the public official involved, and "the threat is reasonably apparent to the person making the information available"?
To call this a Herculean legal feat is an understatement.
If there were really an "imminent and serious threat" to Sheriff Joe, why has it taken more than two years for someone to squawk about pressing charges? In that time, there's been no threat made public that Joe's been in danger because of the publication of this address. And you can bet your tail feathers such a threat would've been made public, given the sheriff's mania for getting his mug all over the boob tube.
Moreover, Joe's done nothing to keep his Fountain Hills address off-limits to any member of the public with two licks of sense and an Internet password. Know how to Google? Then you can find it.
Indeed, Dougherty's point in publishing the address wasn't so that some dastardly criminal could do harm to the sheriff. (Quite the contrary, our sincere hope at New Times is that someday we can see him thrown out of office for his behavior.) Rather, it was to show the absurdity of his home address' being readily available to any idiot with access to a computer when Joe used the very same law to justify hiding information on commercial real estate he owns ("Sheriff Joe's Real Estate Game," July 1, 2004).
Allow this foul fowl to emphasize: The sheriff redacted information that the rest of us would be legally obligated to provide on commercial holdings while providing his home address on documents strewn all over county and state offices and the Internet.
Dougherty's whole investigation started when he discovered that Arpaio'd plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash into various Valley properties. It all looked fishy, considering the sheriff's spent his life as a humbly paid public official. Maybe the deals were on the up-and-up, and maybe not. Either way, New Times was eager to get to the bottom of things through very legal and very appropriate public records requests which Joe continues to resist to this day.
While tracking the sheriff's real estate ventures, Dougherty discovered that many of Joe's records had been purged by the County Recorder's Office on Joe's demand. The kind of info ordinary schmos must have on file deeds, mortgages, affidavits of value, and conveyances of title had been redacted so no one could follow the money trail. Arpaio achieved this information blackout by means of the aforementioned law. But instead of just having his home address redacted, Arpaio had the recorder's clerks attempt to redact all info pertaining to his real estate transactions.
At the same time Dougherty came upon the redacted public documents on Arpaio's land deals, he discovered that the sheriff's home address which the state law was enacted to protect was available through a variety of entities, including the Arizona Corporation Commission and the county Elections Department. And last year, Dougherty pointed out that the sheriff's address was available online through the Web site of County Recorder Helen Purcell. And it still is! For example, check out this Recorder link providing the address for the Ava Investment Corporation: http://220.127.116.11/UnOfficialDocs/pdf/02-0388112_1.pdf.
The Corporation Commission also offers online the address of Ava Investment, the same address as the corporation's "agent" Ava Arpaio, and the corporation's "secretary," Joseph M. Arpaio. Matter of fact, you can view the file here: http://starpas.azcc.gov/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=wsbroker1/names-detail.p?name-id=02473182&type=CORPORATION.
Overlooking such government Web sites, even ditzy deb Paris Hilton could locate Arpaio's faux adobe abode on her sequin-encrusted T-Mobile Sidekick.
For a small fee, all of the following online background check sites will spit out the location of Joe and Ava's residence, whether you're a reporter, or just some doofus killin' time: Intellius.com; PrivateEye.com; USA-People-Search.com; and VoomPeople.com.
Additionally, Arpaio's address can be acquired gratis through RipOffReport.com; and ZabaSearch.com, as long as you plug in Ava's moniker instead of Joe's. Just to make sure the Internet wasn't lying, this daring dodo asked for and received Arpaio's 2005 report from the County Board of Supervisors' clerk in a routine public records request. As was the case with the financial disclosure at the Recorder's Web site, the lawman's street address was on the first page.
The dwelling place of our bulbous-nosed sheriff is so ubiquitous, so easily obtainable online and off, that it instantly gives lie to the sheriff's claim that his address must be kept classified because of all the threats to his safety and the safety of his wife. This is such crap that Arpaio once kidded reporter Dougherty that he never took threats against himself seriously.
The implication was that the only reason he ever brought up an alleged threat was to get the media to take notice. You know, free pub.
Indeed, the sole incident regarding the sheriff's safety that The Bird could dig up is one the sheriff's stooges manufactured back in 1999, when they set up a con named James Saville to make it look like Saville was planning to plant a bomb beneath Arpaio's armored car outside the now-defunct Roman Table Restaurant ("The Plot to Assassinate Arpaio," August 5, 1999).
Thing is, Saville never plotted to kill Arpaio. He only made a dud bomb after a sheriff's office undercover agent paid him two grand up front to do it and then led Saville to Arpaio's parked car. Talk about a setup aimed at putting Joe in strobe lights!
This crass, illegal hoax on Joe's part, of course, got him the face time he craved from the broadcast media up until the truth was revealed by this newspaper. A jury acquitted Saville in '03 because the whole thing was hatched by Joe and his publicity department.
Which brings The Bird back around to Joe's Threat Assessment Squad, a goon patrol that does Arpaio's most despicable deeds, whether they be throwing reporters out of public buildings, spying on opposing political operatives or digging up fake dirt against foes like former Mesa police commander Dan Saban, Joe's rival in the '04 Republican primary. It was Saban who mounted the most serious challenge to Joe's power in recent years, earning the nod of the Maricopa County Republican Party, only to be undone in part by scurrilous rumors spread by Joe's thugs ("Outlaw Joe," July 22, 2004).
Ironically, Arpaio himself is the real menace to his own physical well-being. Remember last year when he smashed his county-owned, 2001 Crown Victoria police cruiser on a big boulder outside the Osco drugstore near his Fountain Hills home? Heh, the 74-year-old badge-wearer's practically the General Augusto Pinochet of Maricopa County. Can't he get the county to spring for his own driver? It's already paying out millions upon millions in damages to the families of those he's allowed to be ravaged in his jails. What's another 40 grand a year for a chauffeur?
So many detainees have been tortured, beaten and murdered in Joe's jails that Arpaio's been condemned by Amnesty International, and held liable in several multimillion-dollar lawsuits. Only this past August did Joe stop using restraint chairs that have been linked to the deaths of three prisoners in the past decade.
What The Bird wonders is, how does Arpaio sleep at night with so many lives on his conscience?
This Yuletide season, it's hard not to think of Joe as Ebenezer Scrooge in an AZ version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Imagine a nightshirted Joe in his bed getting haunted by the ghosts of Scott Norberg and Charles Agster III, asphyxiated in Arpaio's restraint chairs; Deborah Braillard, a diabetic denied insulin who went into shock and died; Brian Crenshaw, a legally blind man beaten to death by sheriff's officers; Phillip Wilson, a sheriff's office snitch attacked by the Aryan Brotherhood (whom he was informing on) and pummeled into a coma from which he never awoke; and Clint Yarbrough, suffocated to death in the restraint chair.
But even if Arpaio can snooze off his evil deeds, his antics should be keeping more than just his victims' families awake at night. Say, the County Supervisors, who're having trouble buying enough insurance to cover his deadly jails.
"All they can buy now is this very expensive excess coverage," attorney Michael Manning told this tweeter. "That means the first five or 10 million dollars is out of county coffers. When we first started suing him, [the county] had a $1 million deductible."
Manning's the lawyer who scored an $8.25 million settlement in the '96 Norberg death, and who in March won a $9 million award from a federal jury in the restraint-chair suffocation of Agster, a mentally retarded man picked up for trespassing. His legal work is largely responsible for Arpaio's relinquishing the use of restraint chairs.
"I think the more the money begins to hurt the county, the bolder this Board of Supervisors will get," stated Manning. "Other than lawsuits, the only thing we've got is going to the Board of Supervisors and urging them to take some action to clean this up."
Manning argued that Arpaio's not the political force he used to be. His deadly buffoonery is finally catching up with him. "Up until this point, [the Supes] wouldn't challenge him because they were afraid of him politically," Manning said. Times have changed.
Or have they? From where this cockatoo sits, Manning may be indulging in wishful thinking. Because as long as the likes of the Pinal County Attorney's Office is around, there will be those who are intimidated enough by Arpaio to keep him keeping on. The Bird can only hope that County Attorney Olson will come to his senses and decide against wading into a dogfight over a nonsensical law. If Olson wises up, he'll see that New Times had a right under the First Amendment to publish an address already published in numerous public records. That we have a duty to re-publish the address on the cover of this paper to point out the stupidity of a law that protects peace officers over the Internet, but offers no refuge to them anywhere in print or on television.
The bottom line is . . . yeah, Joe, we know where you live. And even before the July 8, 2004, edition of New Times landed in cyberspace and on the streets, so did everybody else who gave a damn.
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