Last week I told you the story of how Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his chief deputy, David Hendershott, settled a political score by citing Joe Arizona for impersonating a highway patrol officer.
Quick recap: Hendershott was at Tom's Tavern at noon on Halloween. Joe Arizona, a.k.a. actor Nick Tarr, walks in wearing pink boxers, hiking boots, an "I Love Arizona" tee shirt, a park-ranger hat and, over the tee shirt, an unbuttoned old Department of Public Safety shirt.
Nick Tarr represents the gambling initiative Proposition 201. Joe Arpaio is a spokesman for the opposing Prop 202.
The two men traded barbs through the campaign. Tarr was invited by the restaurant's owner to leaflet the lunchtime crowd, a clear exercise of the First Amendment.
Hendershott calls sheriff's deputies to detain Joe Arizona. After an hour of Hendershott and numerous other deputies of Arpaio's digging through Arizona statute books to figure if they can find Tarr guilty of something, they cite him for impersonating an officer.
It could have gone down as the most bald-faced abuse of authority in Maricopa County history.
The problem is, Joe Arpaio did something even more ridiculous that evening.
The same day Arpaio and Hendershott orchestrated the Joe Arizona incident, Arpaio also tried to have Terry Stewart, the longtime state Department of Corrections director, arrested for making death threats against the sheriff.
What Halloween day proved, several top officials told me, is this:
Joe Arpaio is no longer sane.
Joe, like many of the state's leading governmental officials, was invited by the governor to a reception and dinner Halloween night for a group of high-ranking Mexican dignitaries.
During the reception, Terry Stewart, who stepped down Friday to take a job in the private sector, walked up to Joe and placed his arm on Joe's shoulder.
Terry Stewart was incensed with Joe.
Stewart believed, on good information, that the week before, Arpaio had leaked to the press that Stewart was planning to step down as director of DOC.
The problem: Stewart had called Joe to give him a heads-up that the DOC leadership would soon be changing. It was a courtesy call to ensure that there were no surprises between the state's biggest county jail and the state's prison system. But Stewart needed Arpaio to keep quiet with it.
That's because Stewart was still working on the details of getting state-supported security for himself and his family once he left his post.
Terry Stewart has suffered genuine attempts on his life by the Mexican Mafia. Prison gangs hate him for the methods he's used to break up their ranks in Arizona prisons.
Joe Arpaio, on the other hand, has a sordid history of creating media events out of bogus death threats. In reality, unlike Stewart, nobody takes Joe seriously enough to want to kill him.
Terry Stewart deserves a state-funded security detail for a couple of years after leaving his job.
Stewart believed Arpaio tripped up the deal, and thus endangered his family's security, by leaking the story.
Stewart's exact words to Arpaio are tough to pin down. But two of the top law enforcement officials I talked to agreed they believed Stewart used every expletive in the book without ever threatening violence, without so much as promising to kick Arpaio's butt or break his neck.
Stewart agreed last week to talk to me about the incident in full once he stepped down from DOC. He then changed his mind.
Joe Arpaio would not come to the phone.
But other witnesses described the scene like this:
Arpaio was furious. "You can't say that to the sheriff," he allegedly screamed at Stewart.
Instead of apologizing to Stewart for screwing up his life, instead of arguing with Stewart, Joe then got on his cell phone and called David Hendershott. He wanted Hendershott to send deputies to arrest Terry Stewart for making a death threat against him.
Apparently, Sheriff Arpaio is not actually capable of arresting anyone personally.
Deputies arrived but there was no arrest.
Joe became angrier. According to witnesses, he then ran to the FBI's new Special Agent in Charge in Phoenix, Charlene Thornton, and demanded that she arrest Stewart for death threats.
Joe then returned and grabbed several people who were standing next to him when Stewart approached.
"You heard him," Joe said to one witness. "You're a witness. You heard the death threat."
The witness, a political consultant and former federal prosecutor, said:
No. We didn't hear that part. All we heard was him yell at you.
Finally, once Arpaio could find nobody to arrest Stewart and nobody stupid enough to consider Stewart's comments "a death threat," the issue was dropped.
That does not diminish the central horrifying fact that the sheriff of this county attempted to arrest the state's prison director on felony charges because the prison director yelled at him for being a media snitch.
Over the next few days, witnesses to the scene began calling friends in the law enforcement community. Stewart began receiving congratulatory calls from all over the state for standing up to Joe Arpaio.
Although Arpaio has a well-documented history of using his power to destroy anyone who disagrees with him, people -- often fellow officers -- are beginning to resist.
Consider the report from the two DPS officers who responded to Hendershott's call for DPS support in harassing Nick Tarr (Joe Arizona) at Tom's Tavern.
The DPS officers, to their immense credit, refused to play along. Then they had the guts to express their contempt in their report, a report I received through a public-records request.
DPS Sergeant J.S. Trapp wrote in the report: "I advised the [sheriff's office] deputies that I did not believe that Tarr had exhibited any criminal intent and that it was my intention not to arrest him. I was advised by one of the deputies, who I was not able to identify, that Chief Hendershott wants him booked,' and that Hendershott would be calling Sheriff Arpaio.'"
DPS Detective Tom Kimbro wrote: "I spoke with MCSO Det. T. Whitney and he advised he was going to arrest Tarr and transport him to jail. I stated to Det. Whitney that I did not think Tarr's actions warranted his arrest. After further discussion, Det. Whitney recontacted his supervisor by telephone and advised me he had decided to issue Tarr a citation for ARS 41-1754, Impersonating a Highway Patrol Officer."
Now, if only the rest of Arizona's law enforcement community had the strength and integrity to stand up and say publicly what they whisper among themselves:
That, as Halloween 2002 proves, Joe Arpaio is an unstable and dangerous man.
And if Sheriff Joe Arpaio abuses the constitutional rights of free speech of political rivals and state officials, how do you imagine he treats the thousands of prisoners entrusted to his care?
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