Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Enemies Are Closer Than Ever to Taking Him Down

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Enemies Are Closer Than Ever to Taking Him Down
Brian Stauffer

When it comes to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 22-year reign over Maricopa County, a cursory glance at newspaper clippings from earlier in his career reveals that some things never change.

Consider Arpaio's penchant for investigating his enemies, his critics, and anyone who stands in his way.

In January 1999, Maricopa County settled with the family of Scott Norberg, who was brutally beaten, tased, strapped into a restraint chair, and suffocated by Arpaio's detention officers in the now-shuttered Madison Street Jail.

The price tag: $8.25 million.

According to Maricopa County, payouts and settlements on MCSO-related lawsuits since 1993, the year Arpaio took office, have cost nearly $75 million.

But in 1999, $8.25 million was an unprecedented amount of damage for a jail death.

Then-County Attorney Rick Romley and the U.S. Attorney's Office looked into possible criminal charges related to the death and an MCSO cover-up involving the destruction of evidence, including Norberg's crushed larynx.

News stories reported allegations that Arpaio had Romley, Norberg family attorney Mike Manning, Norberg's dad, and the jurist in the case, U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt, under surveillance.

Arpaio denied the accusations.

But in a recent e-mail exchange, Manning explained that during discovery in the Norberg case, his team learned just how closely Arpaio was mimicking the tactics of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director notorious for having files on everyone.

"In late 1998, we found out that Arpaio had a 'dossier' on Judge Rosenblatt and [on] me," he wrote. "In January of '99, just before we were to disclose that and move for the production of those dossiers, Arpaio settled the case."

In what he called a "Back to the Future moment," Manning pointed out that Rosenblatt is the federal judge on another big lawsuit of Manning's involving the senseless death of Army veteran Marty Atencio at Arpaio's Fourth Avenue Jail in December 2011.

The video of Atencio, who had a history of mental illness, in MCSO custody was disturbing. It showed an unprovoked attack by Phoenix cops and MCSO detention officers, what Manning calls a "jailers' riot."

The 44-year-old Phoenician had been passive and generally cooperative following his arrest for erratic behavior.

Nevertheless, Atencio was choked, tased, punched, kneed, stripped naked, and left to die in a holding cell.

Atencio did not deserve this violent execution any more than Norberg — who also had been arrested for erratic behavior, albeit while on illicit drugs — deserved his.

Following reports that he might have been tailed by Arpaio's deputies, Romley conflicted himself off the Norberg case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office chose not to prosecute on allegations surrounding the Norberg evidence or on the surveillance of public officials and a federal judge.

It's a common pattern.

No matter how vile, illegal, or unconstitutional Arpaio's actions, federal prosecutors here and in the U.S. Department of Justice have a risk-averse reputation when it comes to holding Arpaio accountable for his bad behavior.

For example, in 1997, then-U.S. Attorney for Arizona Janet Napolitano entered into a settlement with the MCSO of a DOJ lawsuit on constitutional violations in the jails, allowing Arpaio to avoid more serious ramifications.

She was rewarded in 2002 when she ran for governor as a Democrat and Arpaio, a popular Republican, made a campaign commercial for her.

Similarly in 2012, after a long investigation by the FBI into Arpaio's abuses of power, which included falsely charging Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe with bribery, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix issued a cowardly statement of capitulation at 5 p.m. on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, closing the case with no indictments.

Last month, the DOJ settled another case with Arpaio, U.S. v. Maricopa County, which addressed many of the same civil rights violations as the ACLU's successful racial profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.

One difference between the two: The DOJ's suit addressed Arpaio's propensity for silencing his critics by investigating and/or arresting them.

A trial date of August 10 since has been vacated.

What about Arpaio's police-state tactics?

Well, the DOJ is making the MCSO adopt a policy of not violating people's First Amendment rights, the functional equivalent of a slap on the wrist.

Yet Arpaio's political career is in danger like never before, no thanks to federal prosecutors.

Arpaio's ongoing defiance of the federal court in the Melendres case, his admission of civil contempt, ever-growing legal costs, and the very real likelihood that his case will be referred for criminal-contempt proceedings by U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow signals that Arpaio's best days are behind him.

As he mounts a 2016 re-election campaign for his seventh term in office, Arpaio can muster only a 38 percent approval rating, a recent poll shows.

The sheriff is dogged by revelations that he initiated an investigation into Snow's wife over statements she allegedly made in a Mexican restaurant.

Details of a 13-month MCSO investigation's use of a supposed Seattle computer guru as a confidential informant in an attempt to gin up a crazy conspiracy theory involving Snow, the DOJ, and other players, continue to embarrass Arpaio.

His old rival, former Buckeye Police Chief Dan Saban, has announced a third run against Arpaio, this time in a GOP primary.

And a serious movement to draft U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales for a run against Arpaio is expected to be filed this week with the Maricopa County Elections Office. A related website,, already is live.

In other words, the sharks are circling.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Stephen Lemons

Walking away from another run or resigning rather than facing almost certain humiliation would make sense for the 83-year-old sheriff.

But Arpaio's notoriously insatiable ego will not allow him to step aside.

And so he marches toward his doom, as flippant and irreverent as ever.

What makes this episode in his career any different from Arpaio's Houdini-like escapes from responsibility in the past?

This time, Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, are staring down the barrel of an increasingly inevitable criminal-contempt trial.

So far, the majority of Arpaio's year has been taken up with legal wrangling and testimony in Snow's court over a pattern of noncompliance by the MCSO to orders issued by Snow in Melendres. This contempt case goes as far back as December 2011, when Snow issued a preliminary injunction that forbade the MCSO from "detaining any person based only on knowledge or reasonable belief, without more, that the person is unlawfully present within the United States."

Snow made the injunction permanent in May 2013, when he found the MCSO guilty of racial profiling against Latinos, effectively taking Arpaio out of the immigration business, which the federal government had helped him get into in 2007 with a grant of so-called 287(g) authority from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Arpaio lost his ICE authority in 2009 after complaints about his immigration sweeps finally bore fruit within the Obama administration.

The 287(g) program allowed local cops to enforce civil federal immigration law. Arpaio ignored the loss and continued to allow his deputies to detain people based on the belief that they were in the country illegally.

But the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed in its 2012 decision on Arizona's immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, that "as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States."

Still, Arpaio's deputies had been acting as if brown skin or a Spanish accent constituted reasonable suspicion that someone was a "removable alien" who could be arrested under federal or state law, detained, and ultimately turned over to ICE.

Snow's May 2013 decision permanently forbade such racial profiling by the MCSO.

Later that same year, Snow, a conservative George W. Bush appointee, followed up his decision with a laundry list of reforms for the MCSO — from retraining to the use of video cameras in cars. In early 2014, Snow appointed Robert Warshaw, former police chief of Rochester, New York, to be the court's monitor and oversee the implementation of these reforms.

Arpaio, however, was defiant of Snow's orders.

In public comments and fundraising appeals, he denied that the MCSO ever engaged in racial profiling, and he remained overtly contemptuous of the court's authority.

"Ultimately [the ACLU wants] to have a 'federal monitor' in my office looking over my shoulder, making everything I do politically correct," Arpaio snarled in an August 2013 fundraising letter. "I was elected by the people, and I won't stand for it."

Sheridan, Chief Deputy Jack MacIntyre, and other MCSO higher-ups publicly mis-characterized Snow's 2013 decision. Most egregiously, Sheridan referred to Snow's ruling as "absurd," "ludicrous," and "crap" in a roomful of deputies in October 2013 with a video camera recording the comments.

Sheridan opined that Snow's decision had "violated the United States Constitution" and that the federal judiciary did not have the power to restrain the MCSO.

Arpaio also mouthed off before his deputies in the same video, made public in March 2014.

"What the chief deputy said is what I've been saying," Arpaio stated. "We don't racially profile. I don't care what everybody says."

Fed up, Snow finally ordered that all MCSO employees and posse members read a "corrective statement" explaining why Sheridan and Arpaio were wrong.

Amazingly, Arpaio and his commanders continued to play a game of brinksmanship with Snow, objecting to certain details of the statement.

There was the very real possibility that Arpaio might be arrested by U.S. Marshals, according to my sources. But the sheriff caved at the 11th hour, abiding by Snow's command that everyone in the MCSO read the corrective statement and sign off that they had done so.

Ramon Charley Armendariz
Ramon Charley Armendariz

Far more serious defiance of Snow's orders would be revealed as a result of the investigation of former MCSO Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz's death on May 8, 2014.

Armendariz long had been a troubled MCSO deputy, assigned to Arpaio's notorious and since-disbanded Human Smuggling Unit.

Despite a thick stack of complaints from citizens concerning theft of money and police brutality, Armendariz was known for making more stops than his fellow deputies.

As a result, supervisors looked the other way, even when mental instability and a suicide attempt made necessary a stay at a local mental hospital.

When Phoenix police responded to reports of a disturbance at Armendariz's residence late on the evening of April 30, 2014, they found a manic Armendariz wandering about his garage in his underwear, shooting at phantom intruders with a pepper-ball gun.

The PPD called the MCSO, as is common when one agency encounters a member of another agency. The MCSO discovered a trove of drugs and paraphernalia, including marijuana, heroin, meth, and LSD, some of it in MCSO property bags.

Investigators also found hundreds of hours of footage taken by eyeglass videos and dash-cams, hundreds of confiscated license plates, and hundreds of IDs, passports, purses, wallets, and other property that mostly had been pilfered from Latinos.

Armendariz was arrested and later resigned. He implicated other members of the HSU in similar activity before clamming up.

The ex-deputy was to be monitored by the pretrial services program with an ankle monitor after his release, but he never reported in.

A warrant was issued for his arrest, and on May 8, MCSO deputies found Armendariz hanging from a rope attached to a pool table in his home, an alleged suicide.

Publicly, the MCSO described Armendariz as a rogue deputy. It soon was revealed that the confiscation of IDs, license plates, and other property was commonplace throughout the MCSO. Sometimes, the property was kept, and sometimes the IDs were tossed into bins called "unicorns," suggesting that the bins and what contained them had not been seen.

As far as videotaping stops went, Armendariz's supervisors knew of the practice. The MCSO had allowed innumerable deputies to do likewise, with no set policy regarding the use of recording devices.

Under seal, Snow ordered Arpaio and Chief Deputy Sheridan to work with his monitor to quietly gather all such video from MCSO deputies. The fear was that if a deputy had a videotape showing misconduct on his or her part, the deputy might destroy it.

The MCSO's vast stash of self-recorded videos should have been turned over as part of discovery in Melendres. If it had been, Snow's orders might have been further reaching, his remedies to MCSO wrongdoing more stringent.

Sheridan and Arpaio agreed to work with the monitor, but after leaving court, they met at MCSO headquarters with their counsel.

Deputy Chief David Trombi was called to the room and given an order by Sheridan (with Arpaio present) to send an e-mail to 27 sheriff's commanders alerting them to the gathering of video, in defiance of Snow's order.

Sheridan told the monitor that he didn't know who told Trombi to send the e-mail.

Later, Sheridan admitted that he had given the offending order to Trombi. His excuse? He had been befuddled by persistent migraines he claims to suffer.

The failure to follow Snow's instructions on the videos would become one of three main reasons Snow issued an "order to show cause" in February 2015, scheduling April hearings into possible civil-contempt violations.

Another reason Snow issued the order to show cause: pretrial discovery violations by the defendants. The videos, the IDs, and the other evidence should have been turned over to plaintiffs' lawyers, per their lawful requests, before the 2012 trial in Melendres.

The third reason for the order to show cause: an admission by the MCSO in late 2014 that it had ignored Snow's 2011 preliminary injunction regarding the detention of those suspected to be in the country without documents.

Though the injunction had been the subject of news reports, and though MCSO attorney Tim Casey advised his clients of the order, the MCSO never disseminated the order to line deputies.

As Snow wrote in his order, "MCSO immigration enforcement activities continued apace."

The men involved in the MCSO’s Seattle investigation (from left to right): Sergeant Travis Anglin, Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo, and the MCSO’s lead investigator on the case, Detective Brian Mackiewicz.
The men involved in the MCSO’s Seattle investigation (from left to right): Sergeant Travis Anglin, Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo, and the MCSO’s lead investigator on the case, Detective Brian Mackiewicz.

Snow's order to show cause scheduled hearings for four dates in April and required Arpaio, Sheridan, and three other former and current MCSO honchos to attend, including Deputy Chief MacIntyre, onetime HSU commander Lieutenant Joe Sousa, and retired executive chief Brian Sands.

But it was Sheridan and Arpaio who really had something to worry about. They were responsible for making certain Snow's orders were followed.

Snow made clear in his order to show cause that the April hearings "only contemplate civil-contempt" charges.

"If further action proves necessary," he continued, "the court will give separate notice, appoint a prosecutor . . . and initiate criminal proceedings that are separate from this matter."

The difference between civil and criminal contempt is that, with criminal contempt, the disobedience is "willful" and could involve punishment of up to six months in jail. (Note: Some authorities say the punishment could be more severe.)

Desperate to avoid hearings and testimony under oath before Snow, Sheridan and Arpaio admitted civil contempt of Judge Snow's orders in a bid to have him vacate the April hearings.

For his part, Arpaio stated in a March motion that he was willing to "appear in a public forum to acknowledge violations of the court's orders."

The sheriff and his chief deputy would admit blame for pretrial discovery violations — and even take the rap for not cooperating with the monitor on the gathering of the videos.

On the preliminary injunction, Arpaio would acknowledge that he was aware of the order and concede that he "failed to take any steps to ensure his deputies complied."

And Arpaio admitted that he had "allowed a continuation of the enjoined practice of detaining individuals on the basis of their suspected immigration status alone."

Arpaio and Sheridan were willing to cough up a $100,000 fine to make the April contempt hearings go away.

Additionally, they said the county would create a $350,000 kitty to compensate anyone harmed by the MCSO's violations of Snow's orders.

Still, Snow wanted Arpaio to have "skin in the game." That is, the judge wanted the sheriff to pay out of his own pocket, observing that Arpaio otherwise could just take care of any fine out of the sheriff's legal defense fund.

Moreover, Snow said there would have to be a record established and possible victims identified to guarantee suitable remedies.

The hearings went forward, and April was the cruelest month for Arpaio and the MCSO.

Not only did the testimony of Arpaio, Sheridan, and others point to a willful defiance of the court on the three main points of Snow's order to show cause, but Arpaio and Sheridan admitted to two investigations first revealed by New Times: the inquiry into Snow's wife, Cheri, and the 13-month probe involving Dennis Montgomery, a Seattle computer consultant whom the MCSO employed to flesh out an anti-Arpaio conspiracy involving Snow, the Justice Department, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and scores of others.

It eventually would be revealed that Montgomery had turned over 50 hard drives of data to the MCSO, supposedly culled from the general public by the CIA, for which Montgomery once worked as an independent contractor.

But Sheridan and Arpaio agreed that what they got from Montgomery was, as Snow described it, "junk."

The MCSO sent three investigators to Seattle on the county's tab: Detective Brian Mackiewicz, Sergeant Travis Anglin, and Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo.

Mackiewicz now is on a leave of absence from the MCSO and under a criminal investigation by the Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Attorney General's Office concerning allegations that he spiked his already considerable overtime while in Seattle babysitting Montgomery and that Montgomery allegedly built him a computer.

Mackiewicz has denied any impropriety.

E-mails unsealed by Judge Snow show that Mackiewicz revealed that Montgomery was paid $120,000 for his services and that Mackiewicz and Zullo pumped Montgomery for information right up until the eve of the April hearings.

Similarly, Arpaio had his attorney, Casey, pursue a tip from a local woman that Snow's wife had told her in 2012, during a chance meeting at a Tempe restaurant, that Snow despised Arpaio and wanted him out of office.

Casey talked to the woman, Karen Grissom, and concluded that the tale "lacked substance or merit." But Arpaio and Sheridan pressed Casey to hire a private detective to interview Grissom and her family.

In the end, Casey's conclusions remained the same, and the investigation was kept in a file in Sheridan's desk, until Arpaio revealed the matter when questioned by Snow.

Attempts by the defense to use the Grissom and Seattle investigations to force Snow's recusal have been unsuccessful so far.

Snow recently refused to recuse himself, and a second round of hearings initially scheduled for July were rescheduled to begin September 22.

Many of the players involved in the Seattle and Grissom investigations will be deposed, and some witnesses from the first round of hearings may be deposed again.

An appeal by defense counsel of Snow's refusal to recuse himself to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the form of a writ of mandamus offers contradictory arguments.

On the one hand, the Grissom and Montgomery investigations are "unrelated to the current proceeding" and involve "irrelevant matters."

Yet according to the defense, these investigations "directly implicate the court's impartiality."

In the petition to the Ninth Circuit, attorney John Masterson of Jones, Skelton, & Hochuli (a Phoenix firm that, according to Maricopa County, has earned about $2.2 million over the past couple of years while representing Arpaio in the related U.S. v. Maricopa County), takes offense at Snow's observation that the MCSO hired its Seattle confidential informant "at least partially in an attempt to discredit this court by linking it to a speculative conspiracy."

According to my sources, this always was Arpaio's intention in pursuing the Seattle investigation, which may have, all told, cost $1 million in overtime, expenses, flights, and payments to Montgomery.

There is a strange pathology at work as Arpaio and his commanders continue to play hide-and-seek with evidence that the court more than once has ordered turned over.

Previously, MCSO officials had told the court that there was only one hard drive and a couple of bankers boxes of material from Montgomery.

But toward the end of July, Snow's monitor homed in on another 50 hard drives that had not been revealed to him.

The hard drives were kept in MCSO property lockers and filed under a report number that I had asked for via a public-records request months earlier.

My request was refused, but my sources suggested that Mackiewicz had filed the hard drives in a manner aimed at keeping them hidden, an allegation Mackiewicz denied to me during a series of interviews.

The monitor's team also found out that another 1,500 IDs, mostly from the "plaintiff class" of Latinos, were kept by the MCSO as "found property," previously slated for destruction.

At an emergency July 24 meeting, Warshaw informed the court of the 50 hard drives and the 1,500 IDs.

He explained that his team had learned that staff members of the MCSO's Professional Standards Bureau had held a meeting a week earlier with Sheridan and "counsel" present and that the 1,500 IDs were discussed.

"We learned that there was an instruction given that the existence of those 1,500 IDs not be acknowledged or volunteered to the monitor," Warshaw said.

Subsequently, Snow ordered that U.S. Marshals take custody of the 50 hard drives and the 1,500 IDs. The MCSO complied.

This dramatic event further demonstrated the MCSO's persistent resistance to Snow's authority.

Masterson, relatively new to Melendres, objected in court to the monitor's actions.

In the most recent status conference before Snow, he complained that the contempt hearing had "gone from a fishing expedition to a specific inquisition."

As for the 1,500 IDs Snow had ordered the U.S. Marshal to seize, there wasn't a "scintilla of evidence" to suggest that they had been acquired illegally, Masterson averred.

Snow then educated Masterson on the MCSO's record in Melendres.

"Your clients have destroyed documents," Snow told him, referring to the pretrial shredding of evidence pertaining to the MCSO's immigration sweeps.

MCSO deputies had "deprived people of their personal property," Snow went on, engaging in "a widespread practice of seizing IDs without reason to do so," then throwing them away or destroying them.

Snow's message was clear: Given prior actions by the MCSO, the agency had not earned his trust.

MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan (left) and defense attorney Joe Popolizio
MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan (left) and defense attorney Joe Popolizio
Lydia Guzman

With the plaintiffs possibly seeking a new order to show cause from Snow, one asking for a new civil contempt hearing — and with Snow appearing inclined to find criminal-contempt charges necessary — Arpaio's ability to escape justice is diminished severely.

The hearings scheduled to begin September 22 will continue the drip drip drip of scandal on Arpaio's head. Snow also has reserved dates in October and November, though they may not be needed.

According to former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, a referral for criminal contempt "happens so infrequently" that attorneys barely know how to handle it.

Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states that a judge has to "state the essential facts" that constitute the criminal contempt and then request that it be prosecuted by "an attorney for the government," such as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

If the government's attorney declines, the court can appoint a special prosecutor.

And if the contempt "involves disrespect toward or criticism of a judge," then that judge will be disqualified from presiding over the hearing.

To this point, Snow has mentioned in court that if he refers the matter for criminal-contempt prosecution, another judge will handle it. Defendants are entitled to a trial by jury if they wish.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods called Arpaio's current predicament "unprecedented."

A longtime Arpaio critic, Woods mentioned the sheriff's history of jailing and bringing false charges against those who stand in his way, including former Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe.

Ultimately, the MCSO's bogus bribery charges against Donahoe were tossed, and Donahoe sued, scoring a $1.25 million settlement from the county in 2013.

The attempted frame-up of Donahoe became one of the many reasons former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who did Arpaio's bidding while in office, was disbarred in 2012 after a lengthy hearing.

Arpaio's former chief deputy, David Hendershott, who pressed for the filing of false charges against Donahoe and others, was fired in 2011.

But Arpaio remained unscathed by this and other controversies involving his abuses of power, winning re-election in 2012 over Democrat Paul Penzone, though by his smallest margin ever, eking out a slim majority of 50.6 percent to Penzone's 44.65 percent.

It was a victory he helped secure by outspending Penzone 14 to 1 and dropping a whopping $8.2 million in political expenditures, the vast majority of it raised out of state through e-mailed appeals for contributions.

Arpaio got away with his persecution of Donahoe, but federal judges are different from state judges in that federal judges are appointed for life and have complete independence.

"Federal judges, as a rule, take their jobs very seriously," Woods said. "They are not intimidated in the least by anybody."

Woods said Arpaio "for a long time" has dodged repercussions over his "unethical, unconstitutional, and probably illegal" shenanigans. Furthermore, Arpaio has "relished the attention" such shenanigans have earned him, Woods said.

But in doubling down time and again on his contemptuous conduct, Arpaio has created a scenario wherein he probably cannot elude punishment, Woods said.

"He literally picked the worst possible place [federal court] to continue his flaunt of the law and the system," the former AG said.

Arpaio and Sheridan may have violated federal statutes in other ways, including possible perjury on the stand and paying Dennis Montgomery for what they may have believed was classified or hacked material.

A criminal-contempt charge, however, is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to Arpaio and Sheridan.

With it, Arpaio's many critics would not have to wait around hoping that the U.S. Attorney's Office will act, as they have in the past.

In this case, it's Snow who will make the call on a criminal-contempt referral. And if the local U.S. Attorney's Office declines to take the case, a special prosecutor — one with the courage the U.S. Attorney's Office lacks — can be appointed.

Sure, criminal contempt is a federal misdemeanor, but the possibility of a drawn-out spectacle of "America's toughest sheriff" on trial for a criminal offense of any kind only adds to Arpaio's cumulative political problems as 2016 approaches.

His enemies would force him to wear such a criminal-contempt charge like a scarlet letter.

Even if he somehow beats the rap, Arpaio's reputation will be muddied by the criminal allegation. That it's unprecedented that a lawman would find himself on trial in such a manner is pure headline fodder.

But it would not be the end of Arpaio's woes.

For one, there is the mounting cost of Melendres, which comes directly out of Maricopa County's general fund, not from the county's self-insurance policy known as risk management.

Including legal fees to date and budgeted expenses through the end of 2016, Melendres has cost taxpayers more than $51 million, money that could have been better spent.

It's a gaping black hole that's not going away anytime soon.

The MCSO has to be in compliance with the court's orders for a minimum of three years before it can be released from its obligations.

Every time Arpaio and his people defy the court, the price tag increases.

In June, the county Board of Supervisors voted to raise property taxes 4.6 percent to cover a nearly $21 million shortfall. About the same amount as has been budgeted to cover Melendres costs in fiscal year 2016.

The sheriff's foes have called it the "Arpaio tax."

Tempe-based Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul said Arpaio is most vulnerable in a Republican primary, particularly in a head-to-head battle with a credible alternative.

"I think the course of scandal is beginning to weigh heavy on a lot of Republicans who in the past might have supported him," he said.

"If someone were to run as a tough-law-enforcement, tough-on-illegal-immigration Republican — but is a fresh-faced Republican — that tips the scales in [the challenger's] favor."

The "fresh-faced" requirement would exclude Dan Saban, who has run unsuccessfully against Arpaio both as a Republican and as a Democrat and now is running again as a Republican.

U.S. Marshal David Gonzales
U.S. Marshal David Gonzales
Stephen Lemons

Sproul likes the chances of U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales better.

A lifelong Republican originally from Flagstaff, Gonzales rose through the ranks at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, from his start as a highway patrolman to commander of the DPS' Criminal Investigation Division.

Appointed to his current position by President George W. Bush in 2002 on the recommendation of Arizona U.S. Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain, he was reappointed by President Obama and maintains a sterling reputation in the law enforcement community.

Urbane, college-educated, and Latino, he is Arpaio's polar opposite.

Sproul conceded that Arpaio and his money man, political guru Chad Willems, will attempt to paint Gonzales as pro-amnesty and pro-McCain (Arizona's senior senator is now the bane of Tea Party types). But Sproul said that message goes only so far.

He said he also does not think Gonzales can defeat Arpaio in a general election while running as a Democrat or as an Independent, options Gonzales is rumored to be considering.

The Republican Party still maintains voter-registration dominance over the Democratic Party, and the vote easily could be split by a spoiler candidate, Sproul said.

Republican political operative Carlos Sierra has a different view.

In a recent opinion piece on Fox News Latino, he declared Arpaio's days numbered and offered his blueprint for victory: a united front, with Gonzales running either as a Democrat or an Independent.

Arpaio, he said, must be forced by Saban "to run a costly campaign in the GOP primary."

Both left-leaning and right-leaning Latino groups should form an independent-expenditure committee to raise cash and counter Arpaio's considerable war chest, he said.

Regarding Arpaio, people are afraid to donate to his opponents, Sierra said, making a so-called dark money committee an attractive option.

Finally, Sierra said he is initiating a "draft U.S. Marshal David Gonzales committee" to raise Gonzales' profile.

Sierra told me that paperwork on the "draft Gonzales" group was to be filed with county elections by August 18. The group's website,, already is active.

Now that Saban is running as a Republican, Sierra said, Gonzales should feel precluded from doing the same.

"The anti-Arpaio vote would be split in a Republican primary, obviously, between Dan and David," Sierra said. "That pretty much guarantees an Arpaio primary victory."

Sierra also conceded that a Gonzales run as an Independent would be too difficult for several reasons. Better to have the backing of a party and the votes that come with it.

"I see the Democrat route as the most clear path to victory," Sierra said.

Truly, the county GOP is so rabidly anti-Mexican that Gonzales might suffer for his ethnicity.

Also arguing in favor of a Gonzales run as a Democrat is that 2016 is a presidential election year, which guarantees a higher turnout that usually favors Democrats.

In an ironic twist, Arpaio's campaign strategist, Willems, also is pushing a legalize-pot initiative that probably will be on next year's ballot. It will appeal to younger voters, a demographic that does not favor Arpaio, according to a recent survey by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

Overall, the polling organization found that Arpaio had a dismal 38 percent favorability rating in Maricopa County. The younger the voters, the less likely they were to support Arpaio.

Sproul said he hopes Gonzales runs as a Republican and that Saban can be prevailed upon to withdraw his candidacy.

Saban has been a warrior over the years, taking on Arpaio when few others would. But I'm skeptical of his chances of mounting a credible campaign against the sheriff. It would be ideal if Saban withdrew and allowed a head-to-head contest between Arpaio and Gonzales in the GOP primary.

There's also the possibility — slim as it might seem — that Arpaio will resign in the face of a criminal-contempt charge, with the Board of Supervisors appointing a replacement.

And Gonzales would be a prime candidate to replace him, allowing Gonzales to run in 2016 as an incumbent.

But this could require Republican leaders to publicly pressure Arpaio to step aside for the good of their party.

Would they do it, given that Arpaio remains an icon to many local Republicans?

"If some kind of criminal charge is brought," Sproul said. "I think we might begin to see the wall crack a little bit, and we might find out who are the courageous leaders in the Republican Party."

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