Paul Babeu Touts Gay Rights While LGBT Inmates in His Jail Suffer
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is a practiced political chameleon, a public shape-shifter who changes allegiances and beliefs like most men change socks.
His best-known transformation was into an immigration hard-liner and Fox News pinup boy, a switch from his days as the head of the Chandler Police Union, when he opposed legislative attempts to criminalize the presence of the undocumented.
Later, he achieved the Herculean task of transporting Pinal County itself to the U.S.-Mexico border, though it's, in reality, about 80 miles from it.
See, in 2010 he and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever formed the nonprofit Border Sheriffs Project, supposedly for the purpose of defending themselves against lawsuits engendered by Senate Bill 1070, Arizona's breathing-while-brown legislation.
Dever's county is on the border, but Babeu somehow got to be a "border sheriff," too. Interestingly, the organization's website (www.bordersheriffs.com) no longer pimps Babeu's name and photo, though the group's Twitter page hasn't been so effectively sanitized.
Now, in the wake of the scandal first exposed by my colleague Monica Alonzo, a scandal that implicated Babeu in a mesh of possible legal and ethical violations involving alleged threats made to keep his Mexican ex-lover, Jose Orozco, quiet about their relationship (see "Babeu Revealed," on our website), Babeu's attempting his most radical metamorphosis yet.
That is, into an advocate for gay rights and a defender of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
In a recent interview with the D.C.-based weekly Washington Blade, which bills itself as "America's leading gay news source," he practically depicted himself as a gay Green Lantern, a champion and protector of his fellow LGBTers.
Regarding his run in Arizona's ultra-conservative 4th Congressional District, Babeu told the publication that he's "110 percent in."
Why? Because, he said, his candidacy will help change "the views, perceptions, beliefs about who we are." The "we" being those in the LGBT community.
During the interview, Babeu reiterated his support for gay marriage and gays in the military — two positions, it's safe to say, he never would have taken had it not been for the scandal that outed him.
He also offered that he's been in contact with certain LGBT groups, such as Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's best-known gay GOP organization. He framed his current predicament as a fight for a tolerant and just society.
He told the magazine, "In America, we define ourselves by the value we add in out communities." Then he added a sentiment that almost made him sound like a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We see our differences as a strength," he stated, "whether it's our religion, our ethnicity, our gender, our [sexual] orientation. Those are the same liberties and freedoms I personally defend and fought for, and that's why I continue to stand up and fight now."
Noble sentiments. Too bad they don't apply to Babeu's own Pinal County Jail, in Florence.
See, Babeu's PCJ is a rat's nest of inequity, according to both the ACLU and various national and international human rights organizations.
In a 2011 report, "In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers," the ACLU documented (at length) the treatment of immigrant detainees in federal custody, condemning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for often treating alleged violators of civil immigration code worse than alleged serious criminals.
The study singled out the jail for criticism, noting that the federal government contracts with the PCJ for use of more than 600 beds at the facility for immigrant detainees. This, despite the fact that the PCJ received "deficient" ratings from ICE itself for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009.
As my colleague Gregory Pratt detailed in a New Times exposé on the PCJ ("Huddled Masses," June 23), timed to coincide with the ACLU report, immigrant detainees at the jail frequently are denied access to medical care, aren't allowed contact visits with immediate family, cannot have adequate meetings with lawyers, are denied access to necessary legal resources, and practically never are allowed to breathe outside air or enjoy natural sunlight, making the PCJ unique among federal detention centers in Arizona.
Labeling conditions at the PCJ "extreme and abusive," the report observed that the "punitive environment" at the facility is made worse by jail detention officers, who place inmates on lock-down and issue disciplinary write-ups "for minor issues such as not making a bed, not moving quickly enough, or saving a piece of fruit from their meal to eat later in the day."
ICE's own regulations dictate that immigrant detention should be "truly civil" and non-punitive. Yet immigration detainees at the PCJ cannot exercise outdoors, like prisoners accused of violating state criminal codes.
Mothers and fathers have not been able to touch their visiting children for the duration of their incarceration, which sometimes has stretched for years as their cases get adjudicated.
Men housed at nearby facilities have fought not to be transferred to the PCJ because of its reputation, and there have been hunger strikes by jail inmates to protest their treatment.
Conditions are so bad at the jail that ICE no longer keeps female detainees there. This, after organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the University of California-Davis Immigration Law Clinic documented and decried the jail's abuses.
ICE stopped housing females at the facility in early 2010. Gay, bisexual, and transgender males haven't been so lucky.
Which means if you share the same sexual orientation as Sheriff Babeu, your stay in the PCJ could be worse. Much worse.
An entire section of the ACLU report deals with treatment of "vulnerable populations," such as LGBT inmates.
These prisoners often are harassed and assaulted, their complaints either ignored by guards or rewarded with the harshest punishment the PCJ officially can dole out: "protective custody," a euphemism for solitary confinement.
Granted, the ACLU report's condemnation of this treatment extends to rapes, sexual assaults, and beatings that have occurred in other Arizona facilities used by federal immigration authorities. In other words, the PCJ isn't alone in its made-for-immigrants horror show.
But accounts of abuse of LGBT detainees in Babeu's custody take on new relevance following the accusations that Babeu strong-armed another gay man, his former boyfriend Orozco, threatening him through his lawyer with deportation if Orozco didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement and remain mum on Babeu's sexuality.
In relating the ACLU's findings, Arizona Republic reporter Daniel Gonzalez recounted the brutal beating of a transgender man by fellow inmates in the jail's immigration wing because of his gender preference.
Ramon Catalan lives as a woman and goes by the name Monica. While imprisoned at the PCJ and fighting deportation, Monica was viciously assaulted by cellmates. One of her cellies kept watch while the others beat down Catalan.
"One punched me in the face," Catalan told Gonzalez. "One was kicking me. They tried to cut off my hair with a razor, but I grabbed the razor with my hand and wouldn't let go."
Catalan later was treated at a nearby hospital for a concussion and facial-bone fracture, as well as bruises and cuts.
When I contacted her lawyers in Phoenix, they explained that their client now is free pending an appeal of her case before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Though her assailants were "disciplined" by the PCJ, they were not prosecuted for their hate crime, her lawyers say.
The feds have contracted with the PCJ since 2005, before Babeu's taking office as sheriff in January 2009. But that doesn't let him off the hook for allowing conditions at the facility to fester on his watch.
Victoria Lopez, an immigrant-rights lawyer with the ACLU, described as "not sufficient" the response of federal authorities to her organization's report. She told me that the ACLU is continuing its call for ICE to sever its relationship with the PCJ.
Asked by the Washington Blade about the disparity between his new-found civil rights advocacy for fellow gays and his lack of concern for the plight of the undocumented, Babeu — who prides himself as a "strict constitutionalist" — demonstrated incredible stupidity about how the U.S. Constitution applies to migrants.
"Though these may be good and decent people, in terms of illegal immigrants," Babeu said, "the fact is that they're illegal [not] citizens . . . It's not like [illegals are] an oppressed people or disenfranchised or people who've had their rights taken away. They're here illegally. So it's about the rule of law."
Heretofore, Babeu regularly demonized illegal aliens as drug traffickers, cartel members, and even potential terrorists. Now, when speaking to a gay publication, he concedes that they may be "good and decent people," but he denies that they enjoy the protection of our Constitution.
On this latter point, Babeu couldn't be more wrong. Certainly, the undocumented cannot vote and bear arms, but the U.S. Supreme Court again and again has reaffirmed that illegal immigrants have rights under the Constitution.
One of the better-known examples of the Supreme Court's rulings on this matter came in the 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, which held that children present illegally cannot be denied education by states.
Writing for the majority, Justice William J. Brennan said:
"The illegal aliens who are plaintiffs in these cases challenging the statute may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause [of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution], which provides that no State shall 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is a 'person' in any ordinary sense of that term."
Can there be any doubt that immigrant detainees at the Pinal County Jail are denied "equal protection of the laws" when alleged criminals are treated better there?
Nevertheless, some members of the gay community are too eager to embrace Babeu politically.
The gay weekly Dallas Voice, which calls itself "the premier media source for LGBT Texas," reported on an April 7 fundraiser for Babeu planned by Rudy Oeftering, vice-president of Metroplex Republicans, a Dallas-based gay GOP organization.
"We have the chance to help elect the first openly gay conservative to Congress," Oeftering enthused in an online invitation. "Let's not miss this historic opportunity!"
Oeftering may have been unaware of the ACLU report. Similarly, he could've been ignorant of recent revelations regarding Babeu's tenure as headmaster of the now-defunct DeSisto School for troubled teens in Massachusetts.
In a follow-up to our cover story breaking the Orozco-Babeu scandal ("Paul Babeu's Suspicious Past," March 8), New Times delved into the allegations that Babeu had an improper sexual relationship with 17-year-old DeSisto student Joshua Geyer, allegations that Babeu denies despite confirmation of the relationship by Babeu's sister, Lucy, and by more than one former DeSisto student.
Also written by Alonzo, the story of Babeu's time at DeSisto, from 1999 to 2001, offers a disturbing parallel to more recent events in Babeu's life and to conditions at the jail he oversees.
As Babeu possibly crossed ethical and legal boundaries in his affair and alleged harassment of 34-year-old Orozco, he also allegedly violated the trust placed in him as a steward of young men and women by engaging in a relationship with Geyer, who also has denied the relationship, albeit in undated letters that allow for much reading between the lines.
At 17, Geyer would've been at the age of consent in Massachusetts. But at least one source identified Babeu as Geyer's "commitment holder," a mentor to the boy responsible for monitoring his school progress. Even if Geyer and Babeu, whom the ex-student calls a "friend" in one of the letters, never had a sexual relationship, the liaison — said by two former students to be "close" and by one to have constituted "dating" — was unethical.
Cult-like DeSisto eventually was shuttered by Massachusetts in 2004 following an investigation into its bizarre and cruel methods of discipline, which included group showers and stripping teens and dressing them in bedsheets.
In legal paperwork, the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services described DeSisto's practices as "excessively punitive" and reported "allegations of abusive practices."
Sound familiar to a certain holding facility for immigrants in Pinal County?
Interestingly, in response to my March 1 commentary ("Grave Digger"), I received a few e-mails from gay men who took issue with my unsympathetic characterization of Babeu's current troubles, which include an ongoing investigation by the Arizona Attorney General's Office and a $1 million lawsuit threat from Orozco's counsel.
"When you publicly humiliate Paul Babeu, you humiliate every gay man," one reader wrote.
Not at all. Were Babeu not a public figure, a law enforcement officer, and a candidate for U.S. Congress, his alleged wrongdoing wouldn't be the subject of media scrutiny.
Gays who feel they must remain closeted deserve compassion. Moreover, members of the LGBT community should enjoy the same rights we all have; they should be allowed to live free from fear of discrimination, stigma, or violence.
But liars and hypocrites, such as Babeu, don't get a pass just because they happen to be homosexuals.
Indeed, Babeu is worthy of a special kind of disgrace for neglecting the rights of LGBTers and others under his authority, then trying to morph himself into a hero of the oppressed only when it's in his self-interest to do so.
Compassion for Sheriff Paul Babeu? Sorry, I'll save mine for those who've suffered and continue to suffer in the Pinal County Jail.
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.