While several reporters listened in on a news conference call, Lisa Allen, spokeswoman for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, broke the law:
"Good afternoon, this is Lisa Allen with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, the third of September at about 12:45. . . . Today, charges were filed against Sean Huskisson. . . ."
Allen spoke too soon. Huskisson hadn't been notified of the charges, and state law prohibits officials from publicly disclosing charges until the defendant is formally served.
Allen may have given Huskisson a substantial weapon in court.
Huskisson is the Scottsdale hairdresser who allegedly tussled with Arpaio in a restaurant parking lot in July. Huskisson's attorney, Michael Terribile, will try to prove in court that his client was actually the victim of Arpaio and deputy chief David Hendershott. He says he'll argue that the law enforcement officers turned a calm situation into a melee, then capitalized on the incident by calling a news conference and announcing that Arpaio had been the victim of a vicious assault.
Allen's jumping the gun to spread news of Huskisson's charges, Terribile says, helps prove his case that Arpaio is turning a minor scuffle into a major crime.
"This isn't about my guy getting into a fight with Arpaio. This is about getting Arpaio press," Terribile says.
Huskisson was formally charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one of disorderly conduct, but not until the morning after Allen's announcement, when he was served with a summons.
State law prohibits the disclosure of charges before the accused has been formally notified. Unlawfully disclosing those charges is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
On September 4, Terribile fired off a letter to County Attorney Rick Romley asking for an investigation of Allen's transgression.
Romley spokesman Bill FitzGerald says the county attorney is looking into the matter.
After Allen announced that charges had been filed against Huskisson, reporters called Romley's office for comment--only to find the county attorney denying that charges had been filed.
Allen responded by telling reporters on another conference call that the County Attorney's Office was spreading bad information:
"If you're getting information at the County Attorney's Office that they don't know that formal charges have been filed, they are wrong. They should know better. Their own people signed the agreement."
Terribile says Allen should have confirmed that charges had indeed been filed before she took the news to the press.
"Doesn't this law enforcement agency know they aren't supposed to do that? I would think that should be her job--to know when she can release information," Terribile says. "If we're going to be accused of breaking the law, we're going to hold the law enforcement agencies to the same standard. And I don't understand why she doesn't seem to know that."
Allen tells New Times she doesn't understand what the fuss is about. "I don't know what to make of it. Scottsdale PD sends us info that this guy had been charged. They sent us a signed copy of the complaint that formal charges had been filed. I've learned since that Mr. Huskisson had not been informed of them, and that's apparently how I broke the law contacting the media before the County Attorney's Office could talk to Huskisson. But we could have no way of knowing when they had served Mr. Huskisson."
"All she had to do is ask them," Terribile responds.
Scottsdale police spokesman Doug Dirren contradicts Allen's version, saying that a Scottsdale detective had simply made a courtesy call to the Sherriff's Office that a complaint had been signed but not served. "They took it from there, " Dirren says.
Apparently intoxicated after an evening of drinking, Huskisson left Such Is Life restaurant in Scottsdale on July 8 and was persuaded to sit in the passenger seat of his car by his wife and by Hendershott, who had noticed the Huskissons arguing. Hendershott and Arpaio had just left a restaurant nearby. A friend of Huskisson's, Douglas Freeman, then emerged from Such Is Life and shouted something like, "Hey, there's fucking Sheriff Arpaio," according to various witnesses interviewed as part of a 200-page Scottsdale police report on the incident.
"Mr. Freeman made a political statement about the sheriff. My client [Huskisson] then made his own political statement, and at that time Chief Hendershott took offense and began shouting that he was taking my client to jail," Terribile says.
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Arpaio and Hendershott told investigators that Huskisson came out of the car and attacked Hendershott. Huskisson's friends claim that Hendershott escalated the situation unnecessarily. In the melee that followed, a flailing Huskisson fist landed on Arpaio's Adam's apple.
The next day, the sheriff's office alerted news stations and held a press conference for Arpaio to describe his ordeal.
Terribile will try to make the sheriff's penchant for coverage backfire in court.
Says Allen, who has overseen dozens of Arpaio publicity stunts for journalists from around the globe: "My feeling is that this is an attempt by the attorney to get sympathy for his client."