Stephen Lemons Column

Arpaio's Parasitic Biographer Back-Stabs Sheriff, a Sign of Joe's Impending Downfall

When the big dog’s ticks, fat with blood, decide it’s time to detach themselves from their aging host, it’s safe to say that pooch is on his last hunt. 

So it would seem with Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s parasitic biographer and longtime lackey, Len Sherman, who for two decades has dedicated himself to powdering Arpaio’s behind, co-writing two books with him, 1996’s America’s Toughest Sheriff and 2008’s Joe’s Law.

Both books are packed with prevarications great and small, and have assisted Arpaio’s propaganda machine enormously, justifying the sheriff’s costly culture of cruelty and his illegal targeting of Latinos, only brought to heel by federal Judge G. Murray Snow’s 2013 decision in the civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio.

In that ruling, Snow found the MCSO guilty of racial profiling and later ordered a litany of reforms, which included a court-appointed monitor to ensure they were carried out.

But Arpaio being Arpaio, he thumbed his nose at the court, and Joe’s underlings followed their master’s lead right over the cliff.

The MCSO ignored Snow’s earlier, preliminary order from 2012, enjoining the office from enforcing civil federal immigration law. All the while, Arpaio and his minions publicly sneered at Snow’s lawful commands.

As if that wasn’t enough, Arpaio and MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan initiated investigations of Snow and Snow’s wife, in a clear effort to conflict the conservative jurist off the case.

The former investigation employed a Seattle computer guru as a paid confidential informant to gin up an absurd conspiracy theory involving Snow, the U.S Department of Justice, the CIA, and many others.

These shenanigans backfired so badly that Arpaio and Sheridan eventually admitted their civil contempt of the federal court in a desperate bid to save themselves from criminal-contempt charges and the serious possibility of stiff fines and time in a federal hoosegow.

For years, I’ve watched Sherman play court flatterer to Arpaio, and now he wants us to believe he’s perturbed by the MCSO’s well-entrenched corruption?

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Both Arpaio and Sheridan may have perjured themselves during their testimony. In his remarks during closing arguments in November, Snow said he was “concerned with Sheriff Arpaio’s willingness to tell the truth while he is on the stand.”

The judge added that Arpaio “has not been fully forthcoming with this court” and that Arpaio and Sheridan may have been “trying to deceive this court.”

Moreover, in a recent order, Snow stated that he may “consider affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury previously filed in this action” by Arpaio.

Recent activity in Snow’s court suggests that the judge is tying up loose ends, such as determining which documents can be unsealed, and asking questions of the attorneys in the case on various matters that may influence his decisions regarding Arpaio, Sheridan, and the other three current and former MCSO bigshots on the hook, contempt-wise.

Snow is nothing if not methodical, but as Arpaio inches toward his judgment day, is it any surprise that Joe’s toadies are taking a dive?

So it is always with dying regimes and ancient authoritarians.
At the beginning of February, Arpaio’s chief flack, Lisa Allen, decided to chuck her 23-year career with the Sheriff’s Office and head out to Idaho to be with her new husband.

Yep, Idaho in February was lookin’ better to Allen than sticking by the “media whore” (her words for Arpaio) that she’d been pimping out for decades.

Now, here comes Lenny Sherman, telling us in a long op-ed for the Arizona Republic that Arpaio’s days are “numbered,” and that Sherman suddenly finds the MCSO “mired” in “corruption.”

I’d be tempted to say Sherman’s doing his best impression of Captain Renault in Casablanca when the character exclaims that he’s “shocked” that gambling is going on, just as someone brings him his winnings.

But that would be giving Sherman too much credit. Indeed, he seems blithely unaware that his employment for three years on a part-time basis by Arpaio might seem, well, hinky at best to the critical eye.

Did Sherman wake up one day and grow a conscience? Did he suddenly discover Arpaio’s abuse of power, the millions of public dollars wasted, or Arpaio’s “embrace of incompetence,” as Sherman calls it?

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I mean, sheriffs’ hiring their flunkies is not usually a sign of good management.

Sherman relates in the piece that he was “invited” to join the MCSO (um, not by Arpaio, of course) to “provide a perspective different than the conservative norm of the command staff.”

Meaning what, that he would kiss Arpaio’s ass with more fervor than someone who is merit-protected?

For years, I’ve watched Sherman play court flatterer to Arpaio, and now he wants us to believe he’s perturbed by the MCSO’s well-entrenched corruption?

I remember the first time I encountered Sherman at a Scottsdale Barnes & Noble in 2008, where he and Arpaio were promoting Joe’s Law.

Sherman introduced Arpaio to the crowd as a “man of clear and bracing conviction,” who had the “courage” to act on those convictions and who possessed “an unwavering clarity of character.”

At the time, Arpaio had turned his organization into a mini-version of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with the help of the Bush administration. And Arpaio’s sweeps of Latino neighborhoods were cutting a swath of fear through that community.

But Sherman wasn’t bothered by the targeting of Latinos. Indeed, he helped Arpaio justify it in his book, which Joe later claimed not to have read completely in a deposition in Melendres.
In fact, in 2012, Sherman admitted to my colleague, Ray Stern, that he actually added some anti-immigrant language to Arpaio’s book, claiming that second- and third-generation Mexican Americans do not assimilate into “mainstream American” culture.

Sherman told Stern that he was just trying to help Arpaio express his views.

According to a 2009 profile of Arpaio by New Yorker writer William Finnegan, Sherman also assisted Arpaio with the press as the sheriff rode the nativist wave.

Finnegan was on hand at one bull session where Arpaio, Sherman, Allen, and other MCSO muck-a-mucks sat around drafting a press release about how illegal immigration from Mexico supposedly was bringing swine flu to the country.

Also, Finnegan depicted Sherman as whispering into Arpaio’s ear as the sheriff was interviewed via phone by an unnamed journalist.

At one point, Arpaio got stuck, trying to justify asking schoolkids about their immigration status.

“What do I say here?” Arpaio asked Sherman in an aside.

Sherman told him to liken it to testing students for “drugs in schools.”
Yet Sherman writes in his recent op-ed that “immigration” and the “birther business” started as “crass ploys to appeal to voters.”

Thus, Arpaio “politicized” his law-enforcement agency, Sherman states, leaving out his own role in escorting Arpaio along this path.

Sherman knows that Arpaio's facing almost certain disgrace and downfall when Judge Snow rules, so he's trying (vainly) to divorce himself from the sheriff's tainted legacy.

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Did Sherman wake up one day and grow a conscience? Did he suddenly discover Arpaio’s abuse of power, the millions of public dollars wasted, or Arpaio’s “embrace of incompetence,” as Sherman calls it?

Of course not. But Sherman did attend some of Arpaio’s contempt trial last year, occasionally accompanying Allen in the gallery.

And Sherman can read the flashing neon sign of Arpaio’s doom as well as anyone.

It would not surprise me at all if Sherman’s already pitched a third book about Arpaio to some publisher. In the past, he has claimed to be working on a film about Joe.

Exactly what the world needs, eh?

However, I do buy his description of a “bunker mentality” within the MCSO and all that entails.

But bunker or no bunker, Sherman ain’t no Albert Speer.

He is, instead, the aforementioned tick taking leave of the mastiff, as we all wait for a hard Snow to fall.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons