Several abiding mysteries flourish in the Sonoran Desert:
1. What became of the Hohokam civilization?
2. How did saguaros evolve?
3. Why do Valley media lap up Sheriff Joe Arpaio's fiction?
Take last week's, er, scoop about the sheriff assigning a chain gang to bury the indigent at Maricopa County's potter's field. Newspapers and TV stations alike splashed news of the sheriff's innovative new program--dubbed "Scared Stiff"--all over the place. The program will save taxpayers a reported $60,000--although some savings will be wiped when Joe purchases all the news videos chronicling it.
The Arizona Republic, which never encountered a fact it couldn't avoid checking, ran a page-one puff piece, breathlessly announcing this cutting-edge, crime-busting initiative. The next day, it ran a color photo on page one that showed orange-clad chain-gang members bearing a coffin.
The only problem with all this is that county jail inmates have been burying the dead for years.
In 1993, New Times' own Paul Rubin and Timothy Archibald won awards for a story and photos that profiled potter's field and the inmates--Joe Arpaio's inmates--who tended it. On occasion the inmates prayed aloud for the dead, especially for the babies who wound up there. The prisoners weren't handcuffed or shackled when they performed their grim duties: A detention officer or two kept watch, but no one ever tried to run.
To a man, the inmates saw potter's field as an opportunity to get some sun and exercise. Actually, prisoners around the nation have been working in potter's fields for years. And without fanfare or trouble, Maricopa County inmates have been burying the indigent on and off since 1952, when Sheriff Joe was 18.
Be sure to pick up the papers next week when Sheriff Joe unveils another radical new penal concept: striped uniforms for inmates!
Joe Gets His Numbers Crunched
The state auditor general's bean counters began a scheduled audit of Maricopa County this week. The first thing they're looking into: Sheriff Joe's use of Jail Enhancement Funds. Normally, the audit would examine only the past year's accounts and take a year to complete, and it might ignore the JEF expenditures altogether.
But after New Times disclosed that Arpaio had made questionable use of this money, particularly when he hired a private attorney to sue the county Board of Supervisors, the auditors made this matter their top priority. The state auditors plan to look further into the past than they normally would and, according to an agency spokesman, if they find wrongdoing, they'll be able to report it in just two to three weeks. (Yeah, right.)
But if the auditors see illegality, which prosecutor will they call? Attorney General Grant Woods' office says it is not investigating Arpaio. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, on the other hand, can't wait to get someone else to do it.
Romley sent the auditor general a letter a week after the New Times article ran, asking auditors to look into the sheriff's jail funds. In the same letter, however, Romley stated that if state investigators find anything unseemly, they should call his good buddy Grant Woods.