Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu turned a nearly hour-long press conference to address allegations of threats that he and his attorney made to Babeu's ex-boyfriend into a parade of people defending his right to be gay.
He asked a slew of own employees and friends to the microphone to offer him their unyielding support, trying to spin the situation he finds himself in into an attack on his homosexuality -- which until he confirmed it today was something he never talked about publicly. Indeed, many people New Times spoke with yesterday were amazed to learn that the tough-talking, right-wing Republican lawman is gay.
The huge irony is that Jose, Babeu's ex-boyfriend and a Mexican national, says threats of deportation came because he refused to sign an agreement not to disclose details of his relationship with the sheriff. (New Times is withholding Jose's last name because of these threats.)
Jose's attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner, who received phone calls directly form Chris DeRose, Babeu's attorney and congressional campaign consultant, confirms that DeRose claimed Jose's visa was expired, as well as warned that Jose shouldn't bring attention to himself or he could be deported.
Babeu's spin is that the media (that is, New Times) used the "baseless" allegations as a "hook" to write a story about his sexuality.
Babeau's claim that the allegations are baseless is far from the truth.
The story is about a sheriff who is accused of abusing his power and displaying reckless judgment in e-mailing explicit photographs of himself to at least one anonymous individual.
As we pointed out in our news story, Weiss-Riner wrote to the sheriff's attorney on January 17 that the sheriff's "continued harassment and intimidation have caused [Jose] to live in fear."
In an earlier letter on September 30, Weiss-Riner wrote to DeRose that his "claim that [Jose] does not have legal status in this country is simply not true. However, if your client ... Mr. Babeu wishes to make these allegations, my client will prevail against the claims."
Babeu's own text message to Jose states: "You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process ... including yourself and your family."
Excerpts from the letters were included in the New Times' article, along with text messages between Babeu to Jose. Babeu told reporters that he did not deny the veracity of the photos or text messages.
Pinal County Board of Supervisors chairman Pete Rios has called for Babeu's immediate resignation.
Babeu stressed, however, that he plans to stick it out.
Despite the apparent threat mentioned above and Weiss-Riner's letter to DeRose, Babeu claimed repeatedly today that neither he nor anyone who represents him ever threatened to deport anyone -- a carefully worded denial, to which he adds he doesn't have the "power to deport" anyone.
Now why would a Mexican man living in Arizona be under the impression that his former lover -- a powerful, high-profile and politically connected law enforcement figure who uses border-security and immigration issues for political gain -- could get him deported?
In Maricopa County, just being brown carries its own risk, as the feds have pointed out that the sheriff of this county -- Joe Arpaio -- has engaged in the worst racial profiling in the nation's history.
Nancy-Jo Merritt, an immigration attorney, told New Times during a Friday interview that some of her clients come into her office, fearful that ICE is just going to come "pick them up" in the middle of the night.
She says that isn't how ICE operates, but immigrants -- regardless of their status -- don't always fully understand the process.
In his defense, DeRose provides a "cease and desist" letter he wrote to Jose, and he points out to New Times that there are no threats in that letter.
We didn't expect him to provide us a copy of the threat he is accused of making.
The assertions from Babeu's camp that the dispute between he and Jose ended after Jose turned over passwords to the campaign accounts Babeu says were hacked strain credulity when you consider the letters Weiss-Riner sent to Babeu and his attorney.
And DeRose's own e-mail to Jose on September 7 -- after he turned over the passwords -- contradicts his characterization that Jose wasn't pressed to sign anything after he complied with DeRose's requests.
"We have a decision to make about what's already been done," DeRose wrote to Jose. "If you have cooperated as it appears, this will mitigate heavily in your favor. As we consider what's already been done, would you like your opinion to be considered?"
DeRose invites Jose to his office to "discuss settling these outstanding claims."
They asked him to turn over the passwords, which he did. And yet, contrary to DeRose's portrayal to New Times and other media outlets that that was the end of it, his own e-mail states there were "outstanding claims."
When pressed about his judgment in sending photographs of himself in his underwear and naked with an erection -- as well as his profile on adam4adam.com -- a website where gay men arrange sexual liaisons, Babeu repeats that what he does on his own time is his business.
As a former Chandler cop, the sheriff might be familiar with the case of Ronald Dible, also a former Chandler cop who was fired for running a porn website with his wife. He filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Chandler and its police department and lost. He appealed, and lost again.
The parallel here is that Dible also claimed he could be a cop and do whatever he wanted on his own time. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in 2007.
"It can be seriously asked wether a police officer can ever disassociate himself from his powerful public position sufficiently to make his speech (and other activities) entirely unrelated to that position in the eyes of the public and his superiors," the Ninth Circuit judges opined.
DeRose has said he does not believe these news accounts will affect Babeu's run in Arizona Fourth Congressional District.
But during the press conference, Babeu said the revelations have caused him personal and political harm.
He already has stepped down as co-chair of Arizona's Mitt Romney for President campaign. And politicos across the country are suggesting that Babeu's affair with a Mexican man, and the threats the ex-boyfriend is now alleging, could also hurt Romney.
Babeu also raised the issue that some of his campaign donors might be asking for a refund of their donations to his campaign.
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"I'm embracing what some people would see as a hill, even a mountain, and saying I'm going forward. Let the voters decide," he said. "If there is money that is given back to donors, there's going to be other people who support us because of our honesty, because the fact we're standing and fighting, we're not cutting and running."
Babeu said he supports gays in the military, that he was in fact a homosexual in the military. He danced around the question of gay marriage, but finally said he supports it personally -- a view in stark contrast to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party that he appeals to. In fact, Ron Gould, one of his opponents for the GOP nomination for Congress, is running on a strong family-values ticket.
"Legal contracts absolutely should be allowed for anybody," he said. "Anyone who wants to see a loved one in the hospital, to be able to enjoy an inheritance, any of those rights I believe are basic human rights and privileges."
He said while gay marriage may be illegal, he "can be a supporter and get out there and articulate, as we progress as a culture and a society, that there should be individual liberties and there should be individual freedoms," he said. "For any other person to define somebody else's relationship and to say that it's not okay, that is not who we are as Americans."