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We Sue the Coward of the County

When John Dougherty asked Lisa MacPherson on a downtown street when public records would be made available, she said, "Never!" Inset: Outlaw Joe
Jackie Mercandetti

Notorious former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates must have 50 IQ points on Joe Arpaio.

Don't get me wrong, Gates was just as tyrannical as the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America." He ran the LAPD as a paramilitary force.

The police chief who spawned the L.A. riots -- and lost his job as a result -- was bullheaded. He ran a department where cops considered it status quo to beat senseless an inebriated African-American motorist by the name of Rodney King after a high-speed chase.

I spent 15 years in L.A. before moving to Phoenix two years ago, and I can tell you that Gates and his police force were under investigation for much of the last decade of his career.

Not so Sheriff Joe.

Though prisoners have routinely died in Arpaio's lockups, his department's seldom been probed. As a newcomer, I wonder what level of thuggery under the color of authority would be necessary to get U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's or Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's attention.

We all know what it took to get ex-U.S. attorney and now Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano's.

Despite the fact that Arpaio's jail guards had made it possible for inmate Scott Norberg to smother in a jail restraint chair, after stun-gunning him more than 20 times (the county paid $8.5 million to settle a wrongful-death suit filed by Norberg's family), Napolitano stood with an unapologetic Arpaio on her last day in office as U.S. attorney and downplayed her own federal agency's investigation of the sheriff's office.

She sold out for a political favor from the public official who was then the most popular politician in Arizona, despite the numerous atrocities he had condoned. The U.S. attorney's probe went nowhere, and Janet got elected first as attorney general and then as governor. Arguably, it was because of Arpaio's endorsement that she was able to eke out a win over the nominee of Joe's own Republican Party, Matt Salmon, in the governor's race.

But before I get into how things have changed for Arpaio this election season, allow me to belabor the comparison between Arpaio and Gates.

Daryl Gates was every bit as power-crazed as Arpaio, but he wasn't a coward. Nor was he an arrogant fool.

In most cases, when reporters asked for public information from his department, he complied. It was the law that he comply. And when journalists asked him questions at confabs in public places, he at least feigned an answer. Hell, Gates would pick up the phone at his home at nights and on weekends and gamely match wits with the probing press. However wrongheaded his policies, he was always trying to explain himself.

When it came to toughness, Gates left the scowling clown Arpaio -- the deadly combination of stupid and mean -- in the dust. Bloodthirsty street gangs feared him, and his boys and girls in blue loved him.

Not enough has been made of the fact that an overwhelming number of Arpaio's own deputies hate his guts, that the Maricopa County Deputies/Detention Association -- the union representing Joe's own personnel -- endorsed his unsuccessful opponent, retired Mesa Police Department commander Dan Saban, in the September 7 Republican primary.

"Except for command staff, a majority of us working for Joe were sick when he was reelected," one decorated deputy told me. "We were hoping that somebody would come in who wouldn't continue to make us a laughingstock. We hoped that Saban would discontinue the top-down policy of cruelty to prisoners [as a crime-prevention technique]. It doesn't work."

"There's a difference between being mean motherfuckers and [being] 'tough on crime.' Most of our inmates aren't [hardened criminals], but we're supposed to walk all over them," a detention officer said. "And if any [deputy] speaks out, Joe will step on him. Anybody who doesn't understand that is run out."

Never was Arpaio's chicken-heartedness more apparent than when, earlier in the campaign season, New Times columnist John Dougherty tried to ask the sheriff a question as he was leaving a Republican Party event. As Dougherty approached, Joe scurried to his unmarked county cruiser and -- in an Inspector Clouseau moment -- turned on its blinking police lights as he frantically fumbled to get the keys in the ignition so he could flee.

It was an uncomfortable moment for the Coward of the County, who's almost always surrounded by a contingent of Threat Assessment Squad geeks from his office. If you saw primary election night coverage three weeks ago on Channel 5, it was members of that same threat detail who twisted Dougherty's arm behind his back and were shown forcing him to leave a public building after Arpaio sicced them on him.

It seems Dougherty, who's been highly critical of the sheriff's unscrupulous and inhumane policies in his columns, had the temerity to confront Arpaio again -- this time actually getting a question out of his mouth before the sheriff acted out.  

Here's how it all went down:

Dougherty approached Joe at his victory rally inside a ballroom at the Phoenix Civic Plaza that had been rented for the evening by the county elections department. When Arpaio caught sight of him, he snarled, "I don't talk to you!"

Dougherty asked, "When are you going to respond to our public records requests, sir?"

"Will you get rid of this guy!" Arpaio growled to his bodyguards.

A gaggle of county cops then stampeded Dougherty, who continued to shout out his question, onto the sidewalk, threatening him with arrest if he didn't shut up.

After the incident, Channel 3 reporter Mike Watkiss heard Arpaio make what would have been an astounding comment for a less paranoid politician, particularly somebody who'd just won a primary election. Watkiss -- who got it all on tape -- quotes Arpaio as saying to a deputy about Dougherty's daring to question the sheriff in a public place on election night: "We ought to write that up as a threat."

It was classic Arpaio, whose ridiculous vendettas against enemies big and small are legendary. Joe's admitted to New Times in the past that he's never felt seriously threatened during his county career. His threat squad seems to spend most of its time investigating those criticizing the sheriff's policies rather than probing anybody who's an actual menace to the geezer's health.

About that primary election: It was the smallest margin of victory ever for Arpaio, who got 57 percent of the vote. If the local Republican Party, whose leaders endorsed Saban, had matched their words with money or put up a candidate with name recognition, ancient Joe, 72, would have been forced into retirement where he belongs.

But who knew at the outset that Joe's own political party would turn on him, that a concerted effort to get him out of office would be waged by the Mothers Against Arpaio (a group of moms whose children have been killed or maimed in Joe's jails), that every single police group in the state would endorse Saban -- or that Dougherty would relentlessly write about Arpaio's countless outrages?

Which not only include the jail deaths and injuries but Arpaio's SWAT deputies burning down a house in Ahwatukee after lobbing tear-gas canisters inside (a puppy was incinerated in this bungling effort to arrest a guy on a measly traffic warrant) and the sheriff's men having sex with hookers in a much-ballyhooed-by-Joe prostitution sting.

As Dougherty dug deeper into Arpaio's activities, the more questions he had.

By press time for this column, he had filed 17 public records requests with the sheriff's office. In addition, Dougherty asked Arpaio to unseal details of $1.7 million in commercial property for which he's invested at least $800,000 in cash on his civil servant's income. Lawmen can legally seal the address of their personal residence from public scrutiny for obvious reasons, but Arpaio's also hidden the details of his commercial real estate transactions.

Nobody knows whether these public records would demonstrate something untoward, but it smells like trout left to rot in the desert sun when a public servant refuses to come clean about what the rest of us would legally have to reveal in property transactions. For Arpaio to claim his or his family's lives would be threatened if the details of a strip mall transaction were revealed is plain ridiculous.

New Times filed a motion to unseal all of Arpaio's real estate records, except those involving his actual home address (which is readily available in public documents already, by the way), but presiding Superior Court Judge Colin F. Campbell turned us down. Incredibly, Campbell cited not one iota of case law in denying our motion. Inquiring minds want to know if he plans to run for AG or governor. We are appealing.

When it comes to stupidity, Arpaio's a genius. He manages to surround himself with command staff who are even lamer than he is. Take former TV newswoman Lisa Allen MacPherson, the architect of Arpaio's public personae, his chief manipulator of the truth, and one dumb bitch.

Her formal title is Public Information Officer for the sheriff's office, but she does little communicating. Propagandizing and withholding information mandated by law as public is more like it.

She and her main MCSO butt boy Paul Chagolla are the ones who -- on the sheriff's behalf -- have refused to respond to the vast majority of New Times' public records requests. What I'm saying here is that they never even acknowledged receipt of the requests, much less provided the documents to which we are legally entitled.  

Chagolla, MacPherson's top assistant, was seen during the Channel 5 coverage of the election night Arpaio-ordered assault on John Dougherty getting two inches from the columnist's face in a puny attempt to intimidate him. It was Chagolla who also was televised running away like a whimpering child (he must have learned this tactic from Joe) when Dougherty persisted in asking when the public records would be produced.

But here's the money shot (check out the photo on this page): A couple of days before the primary, Dougherty ran into MacPherson at a downtown press conference for Saban and asked her when the public records he had requested would be released.

"Never!" she shrieked.

When he asked why, MacPherson responded, "We don't recognize your newspaper as a legitimate newspaper."

When Dougherty reminded the public employee that any citizen -- not just the fourth estate -- has the right to review and copy such public records, she shouted, "So sue us!"

Always eager to mind a lady with a rep for giving excellent head (not just for the benefit of wrinkled, old Joe; she once demonstrated her talent on a Popsicle for a joke video at Channel 10), we did as we were told. We filed suit in Superior Court on September 23, asking that Arpaio and the sheriff's office be ordered under the Arizona Public Records law to produce the following documents that New Times has requested in writing dating back four months to May 24:

• Records regarding sheriff's office allegations of sexual misconduct by Arpaio's GOP primary opponent Saban. Dougherty asked for the records after Channel 15 -- based on information leaked to it by the sheriff's office -- aired a report on Saban in which it was claimed that he had raped his foster mother 30 years ago. Saban denied any such wrongdoing and said the TV story was based on a dirty trick by Arpaio's office. He told New Times that it was his foster mother who had sexually abused him when he was a minor. The Channel 15 reporter later was fired after the station discovered he had contributed money to Arpaio's campaign before the piece was broadcast.

• Personnel records related to Arpaio confidant Deputy Sergeant Leo Driving Hawk, a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in an $88 million Ponzi scheme. In April 2002, U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll granted the commission's request for emergency orders aimed at helping victims of the investment scam recover assets.

• Receipts involving sales from jail vending machines. Dougherty demanded the financial records after he was told that items from the machines have been sold at substantially inflated prices. There's a high demand for the vending items because of Arpaio's policy of serving substandard, even spoiled, food to detainees. In this request, Dougherty also asked for records on the construction and operation of a large fish farm adjacent to the Tent City jail. The farm, ostensibly to provide food for prisoners, became operational at the same time health officials were issuing alerts on the dangers of standing water contributing to the spread of the West Nile virus.

• Contracts, financial records and official correspondence regarding a jail commissary (an inside-the-jail canteen), where, in addition to the vending machines, personal and food items have been hugely marked up.

• Payroll records of Deputy Don Overton, son-in-law of Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne, and incident reports on the death of a jail inmate on July 9. The inmate death occurred in the shower area of the Durango jail just hours before country crooner Glen Campbell performed his internationally publicized Tent City concert as a pre-election favor to Arpaio. The sheriff had allowed Campbell to serve a drunk-driving sentence in MCSO's supposedly closed, air-conditioned detention facility in Mesa rather than in Tent City. The inmate death sparked a prisoner melee that prompted guards to launch numerous rounds of tear gas.

• Routine booking information on two men detained by the sheriff's office on weapons-violation allegations and incident reports related to the sheriff's SWAT team assault on the Ahwatukee home in which the tear-gas canisters were lobbed inside, burning down the family's house and burning to death the family pet. To the horror of neighborhood residents, the MCSO's armored personnel carrier was brought in to aid in the arrest of the man wanted on the traffic warrant. One of Arpaio's goobers forgot to put the emergency brake on the tank, and it rolled down a hill and smashed a parked car.

• A copy of a neighbor's videotape of the SWAT team raid seized by the sheriff's office.  

• Routine arrest records on another SWAT team assault on the Westerner Motel in Wickenburg in which at least one man was detained and a room was wrecked. The motel's owner said the MCSO has refused to respond to his pleas for compensation for the damage.

• Files related to the use of the Mesa jail facility, which deputies call the Mesa Hilton and we call the Glen Campbell Unit, after Dougherty discovered that at least three privileged characters -- including Campbell and the daughter of dethroned Phoenix sports mogul Jerry Colangelo -- had served DUI sentences there. Colangelo did Arpaio a favor after his daughter was spared the dangerous Tent City experience, sponsoring a fund raiser for the sheriff's reelection attended by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. Dougherty wanted to find out if Arpaio had received other favors after wealthy or famous prisoners had been locked up at the Campbell Unit.

The sad thing is, what's listed here is only a drop in Arpaio's 10-gallon hat when it comes to problems and atrocities over his 12-year term. And you can bet that practically all the incidents prompting the above records demands will result in lawsuits out of which we taxpayers will have to pay big-time. Joe's cost us tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit damages already.

By the way, New Times also asks in the suit that the court order Arpaio to pay our attorneys' fees -- since all he and the clod-hoppers in his inner sanctum had to do was comply with the damn law instead of arrogantly putting themselves above it. We only pray for the miracle that Outlaw Joe will be court-ordered to cut into the fortune he's amassed while on the public payroll and pay them personally.


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