ARPAIO IN HELL
I'd perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on just about any man — if his life were at stake! But what about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, say, if he were suffering a heart attack?
No way! That was my initial response to this ethical hypothetical, because Maricopa County would definitely be better off without him. But then it occurred to me that Joe is a human being. Well, isn't he? Hmmm?
Such were my thoughts on seeing myself depicted in the New Carpa Theater's recent production of writer/director James Garcia's American Pastorela: The Saga of Sheriff Joe. Yeah, that's right, I was name-checked and given my own character in the play, which features Arpaio croaking in the first scene after getting grilled by yours truly during a press event.
James Rivas, who portrays a properly buffoonish Sheriff Joe, recognizes me by name in the handful of reporters clustered round him, and refers to me as an "all-around pain in my behind." I — as played by Jerry Mendoza — press him on profiling brown folks during his infamous anti-immigrant sweeps, and Joe drops of a myocardial infarction right then and there.
Being the only Fourth Estater present who knows CPR, I'm cajoled into sitting on the supine sheriff's lap and pumping his chest. As if that weren't bad enough, the other reporters suggest that I really should perform mouth-to-mouth on the croaking leader of Maricopa County's ruling junta (otherwise known as the MCSO).
Thankfully for my reputation, my character draws the line at going lips to lips with the septuagenarian, and Arpaio's off to Hades to meet with El Diablo.
Just before being dragged off-stage by machine-gun toting MCSO thugs, I'm asked by another reporter for my reaction to Arpaio's demise, to which I reply, "Well, he was an endless source of entertainment."
In a subsequent scene, Arpaio awakes in Hell, dressed only in a wife-beater, a pair of autographed pink boxers, and characteristic black socks and dress shoes. When he wonders where he is, one of Lucifer's servants, played by actress Michelle Burchfield, tells him he's in Satan-country, informing him, "Stephen Lemons almost saved your life."
"Lemons!?" barks Arpaio, comically. Arpaio then goes on to make a deal with the devil, who'll allow him to return to the land of the living as long as he does his bidding, and prevents a shepherd family from Mexico from seeing the baby Jesus born in Phoenix.
See, a pastorela, as the name suggests, is essentially a retelling of the Nativity story, with herders of sheep trekking off to see the newborn son of God. Such pageants have a long tradition in Mexico, dating back to Spanish Colonial times, where they were used to convert indigenous peoples to Catholicism.
Humor is often an essential element to pastorelas, and playwright Garcia doesn't fail us here. My favorite part is when Arpaio, who fails to prevent the shepherds from reaching their destination, must return to Hell and face trial before a tribunal made up of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and a high-heel wearing J. Edgar Hoover. The charge: Arpaio ain't evil enough.
Oh, the irony.
Arpaio's defended — kinda sorta — by Phoenix attorney and activist Danny Ortega, also played by Mendoza. Here I have to point out that the thin, handsome Mendoza makes for a better Ortega than a version of me. Casting-wise. Should he want to play me in the film version, he should be prepared to pack on the poundage like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.
Or if John Goodman's available, he'd do in a pinch.
Ortega quickly bows out, leaving Arpaio to the mercy of Hitler, et al., who show no mercy and fry him with repeated electric shocks, as he sits in his pink underwear, restrained by his own pink handcuffs, trying to convince his cackling tormentors that he really is as evil as they are.
If New Carpa videotaped the production, they should consider posting a clip of Arpaio being shocked on YouTube. I guarantee it'd go viral.
The way Arpaio and his loyal henchman, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, have been running wild — charging judges, raiding charities, retaliating against political foes and critics, and terrorizing Arizona's Hispanic community — you'd think the feds would be all over the MCSO.
But, so far, nothing. More than a year into investigating Arpaio for racial profiling and abuse of power, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are as silent as doormats.
"The DOJ needs to go in and just take over the MCSO," a high-ranking federal official told me recently. This person agreed that Arpaio and Thomas are running amok. Okay, great, so what are the feds gonna do about it?
My source, who's in a position to know what's going on, suggested that new Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke would soon be "taking a critical look into the shenanigans going on in Maricopa County." When I raised the possibility of a federal grand jury, my source didn't reject it.
When will things start to move, I wondered? Within a matter of weeks, the source suggested.
Vague stuff, I know, but when I crashed a reception for Burke at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix — a reception sponsored by Congressman Ed Pastor and political consultant Ronnie Lopez — the buzz that day was all about Arpaio's raid on Chicanos por la Causa. Several of the big-shot attorneys present (none of whom would go on the record) whispered to me that "things are happening," but they buttoned their lips beyond that.
That and $1.50 will buy me a half-hour at a downtown parking meter. Spotting Burke in the flesh, hobnobbing with the crowd there to celebrate his official swearing in as U.S. Attorney, I approached him and asked him when he was going to take on Arpaio.
"People are afraid," I told him. "They're waiting for your office to do something about this man."
Burke replied that he could "neither confirm nor deny" any investigation under way by his office into the sheriff, but he invited me to "read into what I just said."
I pressed him, pointing out that he had made statements to the media explaining that the priorities of his office will be mortgage fraud and border violence. Laudable efforts to be sure, but what about political corruption and intimidation?
"You want a quote for your article," he replied. "You wanna write an article. I'm just telling you that I don't think giving you a quote would solve the problem."
"So you admit there is a problem?" I countered.
"Of course, there's a problem," he said. "You're not going to solve it with my quote."
I also asked Burke about statements made by former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias during a CBS 5 interview about how he would have worked closely with a grand jury to seek an indictment of Arpaio.
"I don't want to litigate it [here]," he said.
Burke's later remarks to his audience did not mention Arpaio or allude to him in any way.
His intriguing comments to me aside, it's difficult to put a lot of bank on Burke, knowing that he worked as chief of staff for former Governor Janet Napolitano, who helped secure his recent appointment as U.S. Attorney.
Napolitano and Arpaio were allies during the former's rise to prominence in Ari-bama, with Arpaio even doing a campaign ad for Napolitano during her first gubernatorial run. Joe ticked off fellow Republicans with that one, but Arpaio had been the recipient of Napolitano's assistance when she was U.S. Attorney. Back then, she punted on a criminal investigation of his office when attorney Mike Manning presented her underlings with evidence of obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence in the infamous death of Scott Norberg while in the MSCO's custody.
This was brought up in Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey's November 24, 2008 cover story, "Napolitano's Sorry Service in Arizona Makes Her a Terrible Choice for Homeland Security Secretary."
While a U.S. Attorney, Napolitano lent Arpaio political cover during a news conference with the sheriff by referring to an Arpaio settlement with the feds as nothing more than "a lawyer's paper."
Napolitano was generally a do-nothing Democrat as governor, and she was careful never to openly criticize the wild man on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo Tower. She eventually abandoned Arizona in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis to take the top job at the Department of Homeland Security.
With the Latino community terrorized by Arpaio's anti-immigrant raids, Napolitano took the half-measure this year of suspending Arpaio's street authority under the 287(g) program, which turns beat cops into immigration agents. But she's allowed Arpaio to keep 287(g) in his vast incarceration complex. And Arpaio continues his anti-brown dragnets unhindered by federal restraints.
So what should we expect from Napolitano's operative? Surely, Burke is feeling the heat. County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, now the subject of an Arpaio-Thomas indictment, is well connected and has long been a confidante and defender of Napolitano's.
Chicanos por la Causa is even better connected than Wilcox, falling as it does under the umbrella of the politically mighty National Council of La Raza, which has direct ties to Barack Obama's administration in the personage of White House director of governmental affairs Cecilia Muñoz, formerly NCLR's senior vice president for its Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation.
During a recent press conference at CPLC's state headquarters, current La Raza board chair Danny Ortega referred to Chicanos por la Causa as one of La Raza's "oldest and most trusted affiliates." He also pointed out that La Raza helps fund Chicanos por la Causa.
So when Arpaio attacks CPLC, he's also attacking La Raza and, perhaps by proxy, the Obama administration. This political daisy chain is not one Burke can ignore. Ultimately, it would have to be Burke who acts. He's the one on the ground in Arizona. He's the one who could lead a grand jury in an investigation of Arpaio and Thomas.
Sadly, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division has not instilled confidence in the anti-Joe crowd.
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One immigrant-rights advocate said the DOJ's top investigators — Earl Saunders, Sarah Lopez, and Je Yon Jung — have visited Arizona about nine times in over a year, often with other investigators in tow. Activists have labored to bring numerous victims of Arpaio's racial profiling to the DOJ-ers for them to interview. Others, such as local videographer Dennis Gilman, have spent their own money to FedEx to the DOJ videotapes of Joe's beige patrol in action. But since Arpaio's October sweep in Surprise, when Saunders, Lopez, and Jung attended an Arpaio press conference and were harassed by MCSO deputy chief Paul Chagolla, the activists I've spoken with haven't heard much from them.
The DOJ-ers would be looking into civil rights violations, but the FBI also has been probing the MCSO, and there are potential criminal violations that Burke must investigate, including conspiring to deprive people of their constitutional rights and acting under the color of law to do this — either of which could land a perp 10 years in the federal pen.
My take is that Burke, the DOJ, and the Obama administration don't want to deal with Arpaio, but Arpaio is leaving them little choice. Unless they bloody the bully's nose, he's going to keep scraping his feet on their pals, creating a political issue that the far right will be able to exploit on a national stage.