Enemies List

Recent events lead me to believe that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio may again be abusing his police powers for political purposes. That is, the paranoid and increasingly disoriented Arpaio is turning up the heat on some of us who have landed on his enemies list.

In the past month, county deputies have conducted searches of homes and a business of two of Arpaio's political rivals, and it was announced that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is seeking felony charges against me for a column I wrote last July.

At the same time, the MCSO, without conducting a proper investigation, cleared Arpaio of wrongdoing in a mysterious April 2 one-vehicle accident in which he totaled his county-owned police cruiser.

These are the latest examples in a pattern of such behavior by Arpaio and his deputies during his 13-year run as sheriff. His modus operandi has been to attack enemies and protect friends.

It's scary, but the 72-year-old sheriff is the most powerful politician in the nation's fourth-largest county. What other pol in the Phoenix area can get away with dispatching a police force to search property, seize records and threaten political rivals with jail?

What other pol can deploy his own deputies to clear him of wrongdoing when he gets in a jam?

Deputies have been involved in three criminal investigations since March 31 that underscore how Joe Arpaio prefers to operate the MCSO.

On that date, sheriff's deputies raided a Mesa towing business owned by Lee Watkins, a prominent political operative who supported Arpaio's opponent, W. Steven Martin, in the November general election.

On April 14, the MCSO raided the Glendale home of Chuck Carpenter, a Republican party official who strongly supported Arpaio's rival, Dan Saban, in the Republican primary.

On April 18, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office notified me that I was under criminal investigation -- at Arpaio's request -- because I published the sheriff's home address in my column and it wound up on the "World Wide Web" last July.

In the first two examples, other police agencies were either conducting or had conducted investigations into the allegations that led the MCSO to launch the raids. Arpaio should have stayed out of both cases.

In addition to these politically tainted criminal probes, there is a disturbing development in the fledgling campaign to get enough signatures for a recall election that would kick Arpaio to the curb.

On the weekend of April 16, the office of the Recall Arpaio campaign committee was burglarized. A computer with hundreds of e-mail addresses of recall supporters was stolen. Numerous other valuable items were left behind.

Recall leaders contend they were the target of a Watergate-style break-in orchestrated by the MCSO or Arpaio supporters. It's not like similar hanky-panky hasn't happened before.

"I feel this was a counterattack measure," recall leader Linda Saville said in an e-mail to supporters. Arpaio and MCSO officials didn't respond to my requests for comment about the incident.

Now about that one-vehicle accident involving our doddering sheriff . . . perhaps the best way to judge a law enforcement agency is to assess how it handles investigations of top officers. The MCSO had the golden opportunity of proving to the public that it is completely aboveboard, that it treats even the sheriff just like anybody else.

It flunked this litmus test.

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, Sheriff Joe Arpaio decided to do a little shopping on a day off from work.

Arpaio hopped in his fully loaded, county-owned, 2001 Crown Victoria police cruiser and headed to the Osco drugstore near his home in Fountain Hills.

Unlike most of us who must shell out hundreds of dollars a month in car payments, gasoline, repairs and insurance, Arpaio has no such worries. Maricopa County taxpayers pick up the tab for all expenses related to his police car, which doubles as a family ride for him and his wife, Ava.

Arpaio turned off East Palisades Boulevard and steered the unmarked police cruiser into the Osco parking lot.

He scoped out a parking space and made his final approach.

But then, something inexplicable happened.

Instead of stopping, Arpaio's vehicle sped across the parking lot, careened over a curb, crashed across a large boulder and finally came to a stop on a sidewalk.

There were two flat tires, the front wheels were damaged, the radiator was leaking, the front bumper was crumpled, the air conditioner was mangled, the front suspension destroyed and the rear driver side quarter panel was dented.

Arpaio's car had smashed into the curb and boulder with such force that the drive shaft snapped.

The sheriff was lucky he hit the big rock. If Arpaio's car had traveled a few more feet, it would have ended up on busy East Palisades Boulevard.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty