The Nooses Must Be Cut Down
Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas have defiled our town square with hanging corpses: five county supervisors, four superior court judges, two county administrators, three attorneys, an entire law firm, and (everywhere) Mexicans.
All of this occurred in a single month, December 2009, when the two lawmen filed racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice, and hindering prosecution charges against their enemies.
Three days before Christmas, prosecutor Sheila Polk broke ranks.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Read additional stories in the rest of New Times' ongoing series "Are Your Papers in Order?"
Her stunning letter in the morning newspaper provided the blade to cut down these nooses.
Reputations may never be restored, but the public lynchings must stop, the federal government must act, common decency must be restored.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk must be called before the state grand jury currently investigating six-figure political corruption inside Sheriff Joe Arpaio's command staff.
Attorney General Terry Goddard must, at last, move and move decisively.
Polk would be a cooperative witness.
"If they [the Attorney General's grand jurors] ask, and they need something, she would provide whatever they ask," said Polk's chief of staff, Dennis Magrane, in a Christmas Eve interview.
Finally, President Barack Obama's Justice Department investigators, already probing in Arizona, need to confront the demagogues emerging from the desert arroyos just as federal men once confronted the fevered populists who emerged from the swamps of Louisiana and the piney woods of Mississippi.
Polk's stunning letter in the December 22 issue of the Arizona Republic laid bare her opinion of the abuses by Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
For six months, Polk had served as Thomas and Arpaio's lead prosecutor looking into their allegations against the Board of Supervisors, superior court judges, and the contracting process of the new courthouse.
Based on her dealings as an insider, Polk savaged both Thomas and Arpaio.
Whatever the outcome of current litigation, "It will not repair the tremendous damage being done to the entire judicial system by the manner in which these investigations and prosecutions are being handled," wrote Polk. "What is transpiring in Maricopa County is wrong."
Beyond the current state grand jury, Polk's vivid criticism provides a virtual roadmap for federal investigators currently examining civil rights violations by Arpaio and Thomas.
While Polk's assessment was shocking in its frank evaluation, details were few and should be asked for at both the state and federal levels.
Attorney General Goddard can begin with state statutes: Interference With Public Administration and Interference With Judicial Proceedings.
The fact, however, is that Arizona statutes were written by prosecutors who did not envision rogue law enforcement. Consequently, Arizona , like all states, must rely upon the federal government to address America's Huey Longs and Bull Connors.
Department of Justice investigators in Phoenix have two federal statutes at their disposal: 18 USC 241 and 242. They prevent anyone in law enforcement from "intimidating any person . . . in the free exercise of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . ."
And: "Whoever, under color of law . . . willfully subjects any person . . . to the deprivation of any rights . . . protected by the Constitution . . . shall be imprisoned . . . "
The history of Arpaio and Thomas is a history of the vivid evisceration of their perceived enemies, whether these opponents are judges upholding the protections the Constitution affords immigrants, reformers advocating for the Constitutional rights of prisoners, journalists exercising their Constitutional guarantee of free speech, or candidates invoking their Constitutional right to seek office.
Thomas and Arpaio routinely abuse the Constitution with fishing expeditions that produce indictments without ever producing convictions.
Now, for the first time, an insider is blowing the whistle.
"Our power, granted to us by the people, is not a personal tool to target political enemies or avenge perceived wrongs," wrote Polk. "Prosecutors are ethically bound to refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause."
What, precisely, happened? We are unlikely to have details until the Justice Department and the attorney general ask. But Polk's chief of staff sketched out the problem.
Magrane explained that Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, behaved like a kid in a candy shop when it came to investigating perceived enemies.
According to Magrane, the Sheriff's Office abused the subpoena process.
"Grand juries are not just free for-alls," said Magrane. "You can't say, 'I don't like Mike Lacey, therefore I'm going to look into his life.'"
Magrane explained that law enforcement needs "to have information that Mike Lacey did something wrong, not simply that 'there could be something, so let's take a look.'"
Arpaio and Thomas filed racketeering and bribery charges against County Supervisors Fulton Brock, Andrew Kunasek, Donald Stapley, Mary Rose Wilcox, and Max Wilson; county managers David Smith and Sandi Wilson; attorneys Wade Smith, Thomas Irvine, and Edward Novak; the law firm of Polsinelli Shughart; and Superior Court Judges Barbara Mundell, Anna Baca, Gary Donahoe, and Kenneth Fields.
These charges were followed on December 9 by another complaint alleging three felony counts against Judge Gary Donahoe: hindering prosecution, obstructing a criminal investigation, and bribery of a public servant.
During a press conference to announce the charges against Judge Donahoe, Arpaio and Thomas admitted they could not identify the bribe.
Likewise, the evidence of racketeering is a fetid compost pile of lies. Where lies won't do, conspiracies more complicated than the protocols of the Elders of Zion are invoked.
Let's examine one obvious falsehood.
"The evidence of defendant [Judge Kenneth] Fields' bias was extensive," reads the racketeering complaint. "[He] filed a frivolous complaint with the State Bar against Thomas."
No, he did not.
Thomas attempted to float this smear against Judge Fields, who presided over the Stapley matter, in order to knock him off the case.
Judge Fields filed a bar complaint in October '07 against Dennis Wilenchik after the special prosecutor improperly attempted to meet secretly with the judge presiding over the ill-fated case against New Times.
"The state completely fabricates that there was a bar complaint directed at the County Attorney," wrote Stapley's lawyer, Tom Henze, when Thomas first aired this allegation. "Judge Fields initiated no complaint against anyone but Mr. Wilenchik."
Thomas' threadbare attempt to remove Fields was dismissed.
This, then, is Thomas' legal strategy in a nutshell: When judges rule against him, he marshals the setbacks as zombies — allegations of racketeering and bribery that have no life but that slime everyone they touch.
The lies of Thomas and Arpaio are abetted by a grand mal seizure of conspiracy.
Supervisors Stapley and Wilcox, who oppose Arpaio's brutal roundup of Mexicans, are charged by Thomas with hundreds of financial irregularities.
But Thomas is supposed to legally represent the supervisors, not prosecute them. When supervisors seek legal representation they can trust, Thomas files more charges.
When judges see through Thomas' unethical assault on elected officials and dismiss the charges, that proves that the judges are part of the conspiracy.
This really is a Biblical level of babble.
The judges, you see, refuse to convict the supervisors because the judges want the supervisors to fund a new courthouse where Thomas notes, knowingly, that there will be "robing rooms for judges".
This is not racketeering; this is changing your clothes in private.
Here is what you must also grasp about the latest round of terror: Thomas and Arpaio are hell-bent on rounding up Mexicans, and they see enemies whenever someone blocks them from playing the brown card.
In a recent note to supporters, Arpaio bragged about the number of Mexicans he's thrown out of the country.
"This brings to a total of illegal aliens captured and deported to almost 35,000 in the last two years. This represents almost one-third of the total arrests and deportations in the entire United States; and more than all of the other 64 local law enforcement agencies combined," wrote the sheriff.
He also described how he personally took on President Barack Obama.
"Just last month, the Obama White House through the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department under Janet Napolitano, took away my authority to make street arrests and detain illegal immigrants and human smugglers.
"I have defied that outrageous and irresponsible policy. "
Arpaio's defiance put him on a collision course with Judge Donahoe.
Ever since the sheriff noted the intense level of publicity sweeping Mexicans off Valley streets netted him in the media, he has shifted his staff to these activities. Not coincidentally, the sheriff has found himself unable to deliver prisoners to court for trials, hearings, and sentencings.
Judges Baca, Mundell, and Donahoe have all challenged the sheriff on his responsibility under the state Constitution to transport prisoners. Judge Donahoe went on the record that Arpaio's alibi of short staffing seemed less plausible than the reality that the sheriff chose to deploy his deputies to round up Mexicans.
The Arizona Court of Appeals recently upheld Sheriff's Office Deputy Chief David Trombi's contempt citation for his repeated failures to transport prisoners to court.
In fact, the problems that Arpaio and Thomas have had with the judiciary have an appalling racial component.
Thomas has spent blood and treasure for four years trying, and failing, to kill Judge Mundell's Spanish-language probation program.
Thomas' war with the judiciary over Mexicans began October 3, 2007, when the County Attorney's Office invited media to attend a staged confrontation in the courtroom of Judge Timothy Ryan.
Ryan had attempted to establish guidelines for how Arpaio and Thomas labeled and identified illegal aliens. It was no small matter, since accused felons from Mexico would be denied bail.
Instead of appealing Ryan's rulings, Thomas, instead, went after the judge.
In front of the assembled press corps, Wilenchik branded Judge Ryan "a threat to public safety."
This is the pattern of Arpaio and Thomas. Anyone who criticizes becomes the target of a campaign of terror — and the law be damned.
The abuse of the grand jury process by Arpaio and Thomas in not new.
In 2007, my arrest and jailing, as well as the arrest of this newspaper's publisher, Jim Larkin, followed our publishing a cover story revealing that the paper and its reporters were the target of grand jury subpoenas that sought all notes on any story about Arpaio.
Lost in the media firestorm that followed our arrests was the content of precisely what Arpaio and Thomas sought with their grand jury subpoenas.
They specifically sought the identity of any New Times reader who had clicked on any Arpaio story online over a three-year period. The lawmen also wanted to know the online viewing habits of our readers, as well as their online shopping.
Following the publication of the story, Wilenchik also demanded the arrest of our attorneys and an estimated $90 million in fines that would have put us out of business.
When the Republic published Polk's letter, two things happened: Arpaio's chief deputy, Hendershott, retaliated and asked the FBI to investigate her; County Attorney Andrew Thomas asked the courts to investigate a conspiracy among his fellow prosecutors to discredit him.
Neither prosecutors nor journalists, not judges nor public officials, may criticize or disagree with Thomas and Arpaio without risk of imprisonment.
Polk did the right thing.
Now it is up to Goddard and Obama.
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