GOOD COPS, BAD COPS
U.S. Marshal David Gonzales is a classy, tough lawman, the kind of fellow who can cite 16th-century English philosopher Francis Bacon while announcing the collaring of 239 fugitives, as he did during a recent press conference at the Sandra Day O'Connor federal courthouse downtown.
"If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us," quoted Gonzales, laying some, er, Bacon on the reporters present in his office.
Gonzales, who was appointed to his post by George W. Bush and retained by the Obama administration, said that 100 officers from 30 different agencies helped in what he dubbed "Operation Justice II."
Normally, a multi-agency fugitive task force headed by the Marshals Service nets about 20 to 25 fugitives a week. So why don't the marshals do similar roundups more often?
"We wish we could do this every week," he said. "But the bottom line is not the federal government, not the state government, or the local governments have the resources to do these types of projects every week."
The operation, which netted sex offenders, burglary and robbery suspects, and those with assault warrants, is just the sort of thing you want law enforcement engaged in: Quietly, proactively taking lawbreakers off the streets.
The effort stands in stark contrast to the showy bluster of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's regular anti-immigrant dragnets, especially since, as Gonzales noted, Maricopa County has about 40,000 warrants outstanding.
It has traditionally been the sheriff's job to serve those warrants, but the MCSO has long since abandoned its duties in this area, having axed its warrants division.
The marshal's operation also out-performed a Hollywood-style set of raids last week in Arizona by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE honcho John Morton flew in from D.C. to be present at a Phoenix press conference planned long in advance, where he announced that around 800 agents had nabbed 47 criminal suspects in a human-trafficking ring operating through five different shuttle companies in Tucson and Phoenix.
Do the math. For every one supposed bad guy, it took about 17 officers in ICE's operation to do the trick. Whereas, every one officer in the marshal's operation scored at least two fugitives, on average.
Add to this that ICE tipped off at least a half-dozen national news outlets several days in advance of the raids so they could be present for Morton's media stunt. When I asked Morton at that press conference why he had done this, possibly risking the lives of his men and the public, he declined to comment on ICE's "media relations" and insisted that the results of the ICE bust "speak for themselves."
They sure do, especially in hindsight, compared to the marshal's operation.
Morton not only risked public safety in his bid for press, he scared the bejesus out of the Latino community, which had learned of the takedown 24 hours in advance. Coming on the heels of passage in the state House of Russell Pearce's police state/Hispanic-hunting bill SB1070, the federal government's action reinforced to Hispanics that while they live in Arizona, they live in a state of fear — whether from the feds or from local cops.
Both Morton and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke hotly denied at the press event that the ICE raids had anything to do with SB1070. But they're not operating in a vacuum. Arizona is now a tinderbox on the edge of civil discord. Morton's pricey grandstanding — considering the unnamed cost of 800 agents working on this — did not help matters.
Alfredo Gutierrez, the wise not-so-old man of Latino activism in this state and a former Arizona Senate majority leader, criticized the ICE action as a "Potemkin village," one he believes was meant to bolster SB1070.
See, the Washington Post reported that ICE has a quota: 400,000 total deportations this year, criminal and non-criminal aliens alike. This despite the constant assurances by Morton and his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, that they've prioritized going after the worst of the worst.
"The Obama administration," Gutierrez asserted to me, "from the very beginning has concluded that in order to be able to talk about immigration reform, [it] has to be able to show [its] enforcement credibility. That's why Napolitano's there."
Indeed, Napolitano was chosen to head the DHS because, as one of the Dems' few border hawks, she could deflect attacks from the right on immigration reform, of which the administration's also let her take charge.
I don't totally buy Gutierrez's assessment, as ICE's operation did take out some criminal suspects. But I agree that ICE engaged in overkill and in overt media manipulation.
Then again, what do you expect from bureaucrats and politicians?
There were a couple of weird things about that press conference that Gonzales had nothing to do with.
The first was Governor Jan Brewer's non-sequitur address on food-stamp fraud, which she was incapable of tying to Gonzales' operation.
Supposedly, some of those picked up in the marshal's effort were felons weeded out from the state's welfare rolls, but no one at the media event could say how many.
But that was a point someone else had to make for Brewer, who read dutifully from a script, prepared by her staff, that had to do with people misusing Arizona's food-assistance program.
"Food-stamp fraud in Arizona will be fought, and it will be defeated," she told reporters and the assembled representatives of various law enforcement agencies, who were baffled by her flub.
A more polished politician would have realized that the speech in his or her hand had little to nothing to do with what everyone was talking about. But thinking on her feet doesn't come easy for Wrong Way Brewer, so she took the ball and ran down the opposite side of the field.
No wonder Attorney General Terry Goddard, running for governor on the Democratic side, is licking his lips at the possibility that Brewer will be the GOP's nominee after the Republican primary in August.
Brewer leads a crowded Republican field, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, with an unimpressive 26 percent support from her fellow Tuskers. Goddard will easily clobber her, should she make it through the primary. A performance like the one she gave at the marshal's office only underscores how inept she and her handlers are.
The other off note at the press conference was the oafishness of MCSO Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla, Arpaio's representative.
"The Maricopa County Sheriff's office has a long history of serving warrants in the community," he claimed in his remarks, adding, "Serving warrants in the community is an important benefit to the citizens we serve."
I nearly guffawed, considering the MCSO would rather chase brown folk in costly anti-immigrant dragnets than do the hard, unglamorous work of law enforcement.
During a Q&A session, I asked Chagolla, Arpaio's erstwhile principal public information officer, about the 40,000 warrants outstanding in Maricopa County and what the MCSO was doing to cut that number down.
Chagolla demonstrated why he was one of the worst PIOs in the history of media relations. He embarrassed himself in front of the other law enforcement officials in the room by stonewalling a simple inquiry.
"Thank you, we'll talk later, Mr. Lemons," he said with a hurried wave of his hand.
After the press conference, Chagolla refused to talk with me, even turning his back on me as I attempted to take his picture.
"You and I won't speak," he told me angrily.
I couldn't help asking him whether he'd received a subpoena to testify before the federal grand jury probing his boss' abuse of power. I needled him by wondering whether he planned to plead the Fifth Amendment, if called. I was met with silence.
Incredibly, when Chagolla was kicked upstairs from his flak post in 2008, some actually touted the goober as a fill-in for Arpaio, should the jefe be forced to resign.
Ironically, Gonzales, a Republican, also is mentioned as a replacement for Arpaio, should Joe be indicted and made to step down or should he run for governor, as he's threatened to do. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would replace Joe, a GOPer, with another Republican — who damn sure wouldn't be Chagolla.
He'd be one of the first a new sheriff would kick to the curb. After that, the jerk would be lucky to score a gig doing mall security at Arizona Mills.
When I ran into Attorney General Goddard at a recent function for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the first question out of my mouth was whether the genial Dem thought he could beat Joe Arpaio, if Arpaio were to jump ship at the MCSO and seek the governorship.
Goddard wouldn't comment on his chances against our septuagenarian sheriff, but he invited Arpaio to make the leap.
"If the sheriff feels the urge, I hope he'll exercise it," said Goddard, Cheshire-grinning. "I would welcome him to the contest."
Arpaio has vowed to make a decision by May 1, but already he's been raising money hand over paw and has $2 million in the bank, which he could convert to a gubernatorial effort. Goddard, on the other hand, is running as a publicly funded Clean Elections candidate.
So why was Goddard smiling?
Because Arpaio is boxed in. The appointment by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors of Arpaio's longtime foe and outspoken critic Rick Romley as County Attorney means that Arpaio will no longer be able to do as he pleases, waging war with his political enemies with impunity.
With the resignation of Arpaio's former fellow Sith lord Andrew Thomas, who is running for state attorney general, Arpaio can no longer count on a lickspittle ideologue to rubberstamp all his shenanigans. Even the results of future MCSO sweeps of the Hispanic community are in doubt.
During Romley's previous terms as county attorney, he acted as a check on Arpaio's authority, nixing Joe's idea to put drug checkpoints on the county's border and famously refusing to prosecute those caught up in an MCSO prostitution sting, in which deputies and posse members scored free hand jobs.
Arpaio was so enraged at Romley's selection that his office immediately announced a lawsuit to challenge possible interference by Romley in Joe's political investigations.
But in his first few days in office, Romley sacked Thomas' slithery top toady, Barnett Lotstein, and put Thomas' political hitwoman, Lisa Aubuchon, on administrative leave. My colleague Ray Stern broke the news on New Times' Valley Fever blog that Romley is now investigating Aubuchon for wrongdoing.
Such moves, along with Wells Fargo's demand that Arpaio and his minions vacate the two floors of pricey office space the MCSO occupies in the bank's downtown tower, must be inching Arpaio ever closer to the cliff.
The fact that a federal grand jury is probing him, looking for a possible indictment of henchmen like Chief Deputy David Hendershott, and perhaps of Arpaio himself, cuts both ways.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
If he runs for governor, he can claim any indictment is political. But if he leaves the Sheriff's Office, he won't be able to effectively fight federal charges against him or his subordinates.
By leaving, he would be throwing his loyalists to the dogs. Because the Board of Supervisors will replace his immediate replacement, and you can bet members won't pick a Joe-friendly successor. Plus, the new sheriff would surely open the MCSO's doors to the feds, and what's behind those doors can't be good for "America's toughest sheriff."
So Goddard and other Arpaio targets are delighted with the fix Arpaio's apparently in. Let's hope they're right, because here's a nightmare scenario:
Governor Joe Arpaio and Arizona Attorney General Andy Thomas. They could pick up statewide with the same dastardly agenda they forced on Maricopa County.