Say It Ain't Joe
A recent article in the Arizona Business Gazette announced that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio would address a Chamber of Commerce breakfast and "share his secrets of self-promotion."
Arpaio apparently believes he deserves some of the credit for Phoenix's robust economy. He told the ABG, "I equate crime, publicity and business."
That equation hadn't occurred to me, but perhaps that's why he's "America's Toughest Sheriff" and, like you, I am just an unknowing beneficiary of his economic vision.
The article goes on to make an astonishing revelation: Arpaio doesn't seek publicity.
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Instead, he told the weekly, publicity seeks him because "I never hide from any reporters. I return calls from any reporter."
It was far from his first display of valor in the face of a rapacious journalist. "I never back down from reporters," he growled at a group of high school newspaper editors in February. "I'm the sheriff. I'm elected by the people of this county. . . . If there's any controversy, I face the cameras."
Of course, that's so much green baloney.
Just last week, our esteemed sheriff turned down yet another New Times request for an interview. The sheriff will only respond in writing to New Times' written questions, Lisa Allen, Arpaio's staff PR guru, told our reporter, Tony Ortega. This was after Ortega tried to do an end run around Allen by calling and saying he was a TV reporter -- he wanted to see whether other journalists get the same stonewalling he gets. As soon as Allen came on the line, Ortega identified himself correctly and asked to speak to the sheriff.
Allen gleefully issued a press release announcing that any "further contact" between New Times and the Sheriff's Office "must be done totally and completely in writing to the Public Information Office."
Of course, she doesn't know what she's talking about.
You see, Arpaio, a man drawn to reporters like a Hereford to a salt lick, hasn't been available to speak to New Times for a year. Last June, I had the following exchange with Tim Campbell, another drone in Arpaio's hive of PR bees:
Me: "What about the sheriff -- is he not going to be available for interviews?"
Campbell: "You send us something in writing, we'll give it back to you in writing."
Campbell: "That's our policy with you right now."
Me: "That's your policy with us? Why?"
Campbell: "Well, that's just the way we want to handle it."
Arpaio's collision-avoidance system hasn't stopped us from writing a single story.
Having dealt with Lisa Allen in the past, I was not surprised that the director of Arpaio's Office of Communications was a year behind.
Like the sheriff, she knows little of what goes on in the Sheriff's Office.
Or perhaps, like the sheriff, she has an uneasy relationship with the truth.
Allen believes New Times has printed inaccuracies about her beloved sheriff. When I asked her during a phone call (policy scofflaw!) to name one, she couldn't.
So I sent her questions in writing. I asked her to detail our inaccuracies. She responded: "We will not spend taxpayers' money to point out your inaccuracies. . . . We feel we have very little obligation to do so as your newspaper is regarded as 'alternative' and not mainstream media."
She went on to note that New Times consistently refers to her leader as "'Joke Arpaio.' 'Joke Arpaio' is not his name so, in a matter [sic] of speaking, you are essentially lying to your readers regarding the identification of a public official. . . . You should know his correct name by now."
Can you believe she makes only $48,000 a year?
I also faxed Allen these questions: "What is the sheriff afraid of? Why shouldn't we consider him a coward?"
She responded: "The sheriff has been in law enforcement for over 35 years. I believe he is afraid of nothing. . . . He is not a coward."
That's not true, either.
Joe Arpaio is mortified by New Times, and particularly Tony Ortega, who was named Arizona's Journalist of the Year for 1996 because of his tenacious chronicling of the death and deprivation Arpaio has visited upon the people under his charge.
The sheriff would rather pass a stone than encounter Tony Ortega face to face.
If it weren't for those high-minded concepts about elected officials being accountable and accessible in a democracy, I wouldn't blame the sheriff.
One evening last year, I chatted with Arpaio for 10 minutes at a public event. He seemed lucid, engaging, knew who I was and where I worked. When I encountered him again the very next evening, his face betrayed the synapses misfiring beneath his oily pate. He knit his brow, pointed to me and said, "Channel 10, right?" This would not be noteworthy if I were a forgettable figure -- I am 6-foot-5 and, I'm sorry to say, weigh 260 pounds.
Encounters like mine have Arpaio's handlers quaking at the prospect of his feral forays.
Bill Maher didn't dub him "America's stupidest sheriff" for nothing.
Anybody who tracks the sheriff's voluble utterances -- especially the extemporaneous ones -- knows there's little synchronicity between what the sheriff claims to be true and what is true.
That's why Tony Ortega won't be getting much face time with Sheriff Joe.
The sheriff and his valet recognize that Ortega asks the kinds of questions that require the sheriff to be informed about the goings-on in his office. He asks questions that require Arpaio to knit his brow and inventory the wild claims and boasts made to pandering journalists and polyester service clubs far and wide. They know Arpaio is no match for anyone who has made even a cursory inspection of his record.
They also know that when Arpaio wings it, he cannot suppress the urge to blather unceasingly, inaccurately, contradictorily and with low regard for the language. Beavis has better syntax.
So the sheriff cowers and hides. His staffers refuse to tell us when and where he is taking his side show, because they know it would expose the sheriff to questions that beg probity.
They will conceal the sheriff's cluttered schedule of public appearances, citing "security problems" -- as though New Times is poised to issue the coded signal that unleashes a mechanized team of Tent City commandos armed with petrified (or putrefied) breakfast pastries.
Given the proceedings unfolding at the federal courthouse, you may scoff at the notion that among Arizona's pantheon of pathetic politicians, none is more ill-suited than Sheriff Joe for a scrape with veracity.
Which can only mean one thing.
Joe Arpaio will be our next governor.
Make no mistake, Joe Arpaio will be on the 1998 ballot as a candidate for governor. He has far surpassed even his own dreams of creating an image of a courageous and noble protector. That image makes him arguably Arizona's most popular politician -- ever.
The prospect of Governor Arpaio makes the journalistic spirit in me soar. The scandal will be served up raw, bloody, copiously. (A decade ago, I was an editor on the Phoenix Gazette's city desk. Arizona was in the throes of Evan Mecham; I got calls from Arpaio, a retired federal drug agent. Even then, a loony without portfolio, Arpaio had an insatiable media jones. Receptionists were instructed not to forward his calls.)
At the same time, the thought of an Arpaio administration contorts my spirits of parenthood and citizenship. Can you imagine the man that brought us Tent City, green baloney, chain gangs and pooch cams overseeing the education and health care of millions of people?
Alas, 85 percent of the public adore him, which goes a long way toward explaining how we also got the likes of Evan Mecham, J. Fife Symington III, Don Aldridge, Jeff Groscost and J.D. Hayworth.
Arpaio won't resist the call.
His handlers already are working to remake his image, because what sells for a sheriff does not necessarily sell for a governor. He's won acclaim--and the devotion of thousands of people who are moving their lips as they read this--by exploiting his deputies, his volunteer posse and the jail inmates under his charge.
As each new plague is heaped upon the inmates--70 percent of whom are awaiting trial--these human beings deflate a little more while Sheriff Joe inflates proportionately. He is a blimp.
But Governor Joe could never be so medieval. That's why he's hopping aboard popular bandwagons like the assault on underage smoking. He's conducted stings to catch merchants who sell to minors. Attacking Big Tobacco has worked for Bill Clinton, it's worked for Grant Woods, why can't it work for Joe?
There also have been such touchy-feely initiatives as putting 150 law-abiding schoolkids in Tent City for a night--an exercise which served no rational purpose beyond getting the sheriff on TV, which, of course, it did. There's the sheriff's recent pledge to work harder on educational programs for inmates.
But this will be a tough makeover. As I strain to conjure the image of Joe Arpaio, Humanist, I see a perpetual video loop of Al Gore dancing, Larry Flynt being baptized, Boris Yeltsin dancing, that Japanese guy in Fargo.
Arpaio has reasons beyond ambition to bridle his rhetoric. Maricopa County taxpayers face many millions of dollars in liability from claims lodged by inmates injured in his jails, and many millions more from the kin of people who have died under his watch.
Arpaio knows his grandiloquence nurtured the yeasty environment that produced these deeds. He would prefer that everyone forget that article he wrote for LEPA, a law enforcement journal, in 1995. In it, he proclaimed, "I believe jail should be punishment, and I have acted on this belief since I took office."
That is the stuff of punitive damages, and until he's elected governor, Arpaio will contort to disavow such brimstone.
Which pedestal would Arpaio occupy in our gallery of guvs? Let's consider our recent inductees:
Evan Mecham was a bitter, confused, paleolithic man who couldn't grasp why people were upset about his condoning the word "pickaninny." Like Arpaio, Mecham once declared a journalist persona non grata. He also fed reporters that immortal line, "We'll answer questions. But we'll choose the questions." He was impeached because he was an ass.
Rose Mofford succeeded Mecham from her secretary of state post. Although her Dairy Queen bouffant was unruffled, she was never the same after she took a tumble and hit her head. Great for ribbon-cuttings and photo ops, but the details of state were another matter.
Fife is Fife. A liar and a fraud who won his office by deceit and gouged every living organism that strayed within his orbit. As is the case with Arpaio, Symington doesn't talk to New Times--hasn't since 1992. He has discouraged state agencies and their well-paid media flacks from talking to New Times. As is the case with Arpaio, this ostrichlike policy hasn't prevented a single story from being written. It merely means 400,000 or so readers don't get Symington's spin.
Despite his criminal tendencies, Symington's most pernicious legacy will be his systematic dismantling of Arizona's public education system. It will take decades to rebuild it. Perhaps he will have been paroled by then.
Which brings us to Joe Arpaio, whose paranoia and egomania eclipse all of the above.
Fife ripped people off, destroyed livelihoods. Arpaio and his hezbollah jailers are actually destroying lives.
Where to start the catalogue of Joe Arpaio's prevarication?
With his ironclad pledge to seek only one term?
How about his vaunted citizens posses and the millions he claims they've saved the taxpayers? As Tony Ortega established last year, the posses are a huge drain on the Sheriff's Office, not to mention the bane of dedicated deputies.
How about the pink underwear? How many thousands of dollars in undie thefts has Joe prevented? Forty thousand dollars' worth of undies out the door during the first nine months of 1995, you say? When Ortega did the math, that translated into 21,000 pairs of undies, or more than 75 pairs a day. Why are we skeptical?
How about the sheriff's misspending of $122,419 in state Jail Enhancement Funds, money intended to develop jail facilities? He assured the public it would not pay for his tantrum lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors, then turned around and spent $39,350 from the JEF for a private lawyer to wage his quixotic legal crusade. Another $11,969 in JEF money went to a video service that dutifully records Arpaio's media circuses as they play out on TV newscasts. His criteria for which programs should be taped? "Whenever I talk." What Arpaio did with that money was a crime, but our attorney general and county attorney are far too timid to apply the law to Joe.
How about the nights the fearless Sheriff Joe spent in Tent City? He volunteered to one interviewer that he passed the night without any special protection. This despite the fact that a sheriff's SWAT team was summoned and staged nearby in case Joe's courage flagged. During a recent deposition in one of his torture lawsuits, the sheriff came perilously nigh to perjuring himself when he was asked about this episode. He said, "No," no special precautions were taken. Pressed further, under oath, he equivocated.
In a similar vein, how about the February 6 speech in which Arpaio joked about having his wife start his car every day, ostensibly because arch-criminals are constantly plotting to do him in? Arpaio mentioned bodyguards, and for some reason added, "I don't use any, period." Meanwhile, outside the front door, two armed sheriff's reserve officers kept vigil. "Sure, I'm guarding the sheriff," one said. "He's worried about the threats against him."
How about the time he told Tom Snyder he had saved Maricopa County taxpayers $100 million? Asked to explain himself--this was back when he couldn't resist New Times' queries--he told me that he hadn't demanded a new jail, which would cost $100 million, so there you have it. He also told Snyder's national TV audience that his policies deter crime, but admitted to me that he had no such evidence and doesn't plan to seek any.
How about the military policeman the sheriff befriended and gave a badge? He turned out to be an impostor who used his access to do searches on crime computers. He allegedly checked female inmates out of jail for special counseling sessions, during which, they say, he fondled them.
How about the innovative "Scared Stiff" program, which uses inmates to bury paupers at the county's potter's field? The Arizona Republic splashed it on page one, despite the fact that inmate labor had been used to bury paupers for years.
How about the alleged Asian gang member who was given a badge as a member of Arpaio's Executive Posse (see page 15)?
How about that pesky U.S. Justice Department, whose investigators found that Arpaio's jailers were violating the constitutional rights of inmates, that they had applied a stun gun to the testicles of one inmate and denied proper medical care to scores of others?
How about the inmates who've committed suicide in Joe's jails, including two within the space of a week? This after the Justice Department warned about dangerous housing for suicidal inmates.
How about the alleged child snatchers who are fighting extradition from Iceland to Arizona on the grounds that in Joe's jails, inmates suffer physical abuse, that such abuse is covered up, and that inmates are denied access to adequate medical care or legal services? They claim that the jails would violate Iceland's humanitarian standards of inhumane treatment -- and they are getting a hearing. Amnesty International, which specializes in monitoring brutal regimes and Third World despots, is taking an interest in Joe's jails.
How about the sergeant fired, and the other deputies investigated and polygraphed, and still others moved to dead-end positions because Arpaio has suspected them of talking to New Times?
How about Scott Norberg, the young man who was placed into a restraint chair and asphyxiated by jailers? Or Richard Post, the paraplegic who got the restraint-chair treatment and wound up with a broken neck? Or Jeremy Flanders, the young Tent City inmate who was beaten into a coma by tent-stake-wielding prisoners at Tent City?
How about the sheriff's denial of New Times' request for financial records of his nearly 60 citizen posses, which have raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars? He swears the posses are nonprofit organizations that are independent of the Sheriff's Office and not subject to the Public Records Law. Never mind that the fund-raising is coordinated from the Sheriff's Office. Never mind his dismissal of an "independent" posse chief for failing to follow his directives. Why won't Arpaio come clean about posse finances? What's he hiding?
Perhaps now you understand why Joe Arpaio is afraid.
And why, in Arizona, he's towering gubernatorial timber.
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