Arpaio Says, "No One Would Be Foolish Enough to Destroy Public Records" But At Least One of His Employees Does Just That

We finally quit laughing over a January 29 news release from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and are now able to write about it.

The release involves a request for public records Sheriff Arpaio's minions made in late 2007 to the county's Superior Court -- a blatant fishing expedition for the e-mails of judges and top court staff. The endeavor is obvious political nonsense, similar to the requests for Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon's e-mails which led to a standoff at City Hall between yours truly, Arpaio's deputies and Phoenix police.

In the latest news release, one of Arpaio's aides complains that he "can't believe" it would take more than a few weeks to produce copies of e-mails. Arpaio then weighs in threateningly:

"When this court administration blatantly ignores the law like this it really fuels the fires of the people who want all judges elected," said Arpaio. "I know the records must still be collected over at the court. No one would be so foolish as to destroy public records, especially with this open request pending."

Yet destroying e-mails (the exact same kind of public records Arpaio wants from the court staff) is by no means unheard of under Arpaio's regime, and we've got the proof.

Click here to see the response we received in late 2007 from a spokesman following our request to look when we asked to look at a public information officer's e-mails to the media. Here's the relevant part:

Deputy Matteson acts upon each message received into his box and then permanently deletes the material.

As any savvy computer user knows, deletion is only superficial when the average user -- like Matteson -- hits the delete key. That's especially true on a network like the sheriff's office's computer system, where e-mails -- by county policy -- are supposed to be retained for 30 days on county servers.

In other words, Arpaio's staff members are not only trashing their e-mails, but they're doing it in violation of county policy if the e-mails are truly deleted "permanently."

Arpaio's double standards on the issue of public records is nothing short of astounding. Let's review:

*As this blog reveals, Arpaio bitches that government officials might destroy their e-mails, when destroying e-mails is the de facto policy at his office.

*Arpaio refuses to allow the public to photograph or digitally scan in public records released by his agency, yet his deputies utilized a scanner last year when obtaining records from the city of Phoenix.

*Arpaio complains that it's taking too long for the court system to comply with his records request, yet his office has been sued multiple times for failure to turn over public records in a timely manner.

While we appreciate a good public records request and we'll be interested to see the court's e-mails if Arpaio lays his hands on them, the sheriff's latest motion to the Arizona Court of Appeals should be rejected on grounds of sheer hypocrisy.

We asked Lisa Allen, the sheriff's director of communications, about Matteson's deletion of e-mails. She says he probably does it to reduce the overwhelming flood of e-mails he gets.

"I have never told any of my people to get rid of e-mails," she says.

She couldn't explain why a past request for her e-mails to and from news media members never turned up more than a page or two. But she did have a reason for why New Times has never received any requested e-mails from Arpaio or his top aide, Dave Hendershott: Neither men use e-mail.

Okay, Arpaio not using e-mail is kind of understandable. The guy's in his late 70s, after all. But the idea that Hendershott -- the chief deputy who essentially runs the agency -- never uses e-mail is astounding.

Let's face it, there's only one reason someone like Hendershott doesn't use e-mail.

He doesn't want to leave a trail.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.