Sheriff Joe, Elias Bermudez and the Case of the Very Offensive Voice Mail
"You go to hell," the caller snarls. "You talk about illegal immigration -- You go to hell and -- take your Spics with ya."
The message is just a few seconds long, and in these polarized times, sadly, not that unique in its use of a racial slur to describe Latino residents.
There's just one thing, in fact, that makes this particular voice mail fascinating. And that's this: The caller sounds kind of like Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
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We're not saying it's him. Nor is the guy whose voice mail recorded the message on February 11, controversial local Hispanic activist/Spanish radio host Elias Bermudez. Arpaio's spokeswoman, Lisa Allen, called it "another silly, unfounded accusation against the sheriff from one of his critics."
But we have to admit it kind of sounds like Arpaio, or at least a guy trying to sound like Arpaio. And so, initially, did Bermudez. He told New Times that when he first heard the message, Arpaio's face immediately came to mind.
So Bermudez played the voice mail message for his radio audience on AM 1540, KSAA, the next morning, raising the possibility. He says he also intends to get a subpoena to get the phone company to comb through its records and see where the call originated.
As Bermudez admits, there was good reason for him to be thinking of Sheriff Joe on the night the voice mail was left -- and vice versa. That day, sheriff's deputies had descended on the county's landscaping contractor, detaining 60 employees as suspected illegal immigrants. And it wasn't just the illegal aliens who suffered during the sheriff's visit; Bermudez says the legal residents also had their hands zip-tied behind their backs for hours -- including an elderly man who ended up pissing himself.
"This man was a legal, permanent resident!" Bermudez told New Times last week. "His son was an American citizen. That's not right. I don't care how you look at it." Bermudez was angry enough to give a series of salty interviews to two local TV news stations, including one where he called the sheriff a criminal.
So the famously thin-skinned sheriff had reason to be mad -- the question is, was he stupid enough to leave a voice mail uttering a word that no public official should ever, ever say?
We just can't believe he's that dumb. MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen, who ought to know, says the anonymous caller's voice is "not even close" to that of her boss. (As for Bermudez, he says, "I hope it's not him. It saddens me if he would think in such a way.") But we invite you to listen to the recording, which we've linked
, and let us know what you think.
And while we're staying skeptical for now, if it turns out the call came from a payphone in Arpaio's hometown of Fountain Hills, well, suffice to say we could easily be persuaded.
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