Gag of an Order

In a legal maneuver apparently designed to honor yours truly while offering up a barrel of fish for shooting, stunningly shameless attorneys for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed a motion in U.S. District Court to prohibit anyone involved in a pending civil case against the sheriff's office from speaking to the media.

The case involves the savage beating by jail inmates of Jefferson Davis McGee, a young drifter who had been tossed in jail as an investigative lead in the tragic rape and murder of 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd. McGee was found to have had no involvement with the crime.

In the last year, New Times investigations of jail videotapes and public court documents, along with numerous interviews of witnesses in the case, have raised the possibility that not only were jail administrators and staff grossly negligent in placing McGee in the general population of the jail's maximum-security pods, they may have intentionally placed McGee there to have jail snitches and others beat a confession out of him.

Considering the mounting evidence suggesting that McGee was set up, I called for a federal criminal investigation of Arpaio for civil rights violations.

Damn. Did that hit a nerve.

On February 25, attorneys for Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, the smarmy apologist firm hired by the county to defend Arpaio, presented a federal judge with its Motion for Protective Order.

Reading the motion made me feel like Norah Jones at the Grammys. I was mentioned in one form or another more than a dozen times.

I'd like to thank my mother and . . .

I guess this wouldn't be such a laughable issue if the motion wasn't such a joke.

Let me count the ways.

Joe's attorneys are upset that I got my eyes on some pretrial documents in the case.

Hello! What I saw were public documents. And they were not shown to me by McGee's attorneys, as Joe's lawyers apparently assume.

Then the attorneys write: "No representative of the Defendants was contacted for comment or offered the opportunity prior to publication of the New Times article."

I didn't have to contact them for my column. But I did, in fact, call them for comment. I called Joe, I called chief deputy David Hendershott, I called the home numbers for two of the MCSO employees who clearly made questionable decisions in placing McGee.

The attorney writing this motion, Rachel Love, either isn't getting the correct information from the MCSO, which is common, or she is misrepresenting things to the judge.

In another strange accusation, Joe's attorneys claim that the "Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cannot locate a record of responding to a New Times public records request for videotapes in the last two years."

Luckily, I do a better job keeping records than the sheriff's office. I have a copy of my April 2002 request to former MCSO public information officer Bill Knight, as well as the fax transmission records. I've given a copy of those documents to New Times' attorney and McGee's attorneys.

I picked up the three tapes at the MCSO's Wells Fargo Building executive offices in April. I had to sign in, so my name is also there on their logs.

How dumb are these guys? Get this. I hear from McGee's attorney that the MCSO had a little something to admit about its accusations. There was an 18-month gap in its own public records request log.

I called Bill Knight late last week to ask him why he's playing along with a line of bullshit to a federal judge that's only result will be to expose the incompetence of his department. He didn't call back, which is what MCSO officials do when you're calling them about their beatings and blunders.

From what I can figure, Joe's attorneys are attempting to claim that my copies of jail videotapes in fact came from McGee's attorney, Jason Lamm, which – while an idiotic assertion – wouldn't matter anyway.

"The article clearly promotes Plaintiff's unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, going so far as to state that an unnamed forensic video specialist has determined that both videotapes produced by Defendants during pretrial discovery and videotapes obtained by the New Times from MCSO have been altered."

The "going so far" line is clearly an attempt to suggest such a review never took place.

Judge, please call Barry G. Dickey of the Arlington, Texas-based Audio Evidence Lab, one of the premier forensic video analysis labs in the country. After reviewing the three tapes I received from MCSO's Knight, Dickey, a certified forensic analyst, submitted to me on October 22, 2002, a 23-page report that concluded:

"The results of the examination suggest that the original has been altered/edited. The recording contains suspicious events, which question the integrity of the recording."

He gave the same assessment of one of the other tapes.

Joe's attorneys may want to check the Audio Evidence Lab Web site to review the company's credentials. They are considerably more impressive than those of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli.

The best part of the motion is an affidavit by some pinhead named Ted Howard.

The motion reads: "Future articles are sure to follow as the next round of depositions of MCSO employees take place the last week of February. As evidence, Ted Howard, senior claims adjuster for Maricopa County Risk Management, recently paid Plaintiff's counsel, Jason Lamm, a visit to discuss possible settlement.

"During the visit, Plaintiff's counsel took a call and after hanging up, informed Mr. Howard that it had been New Times reporter Robert Nelson calling. Because Mr. Howard was aware that two articles regarding the case had been published in New Times in the last two months, Mr. Howard assumed that New Times reporter Robert Nelson was calling Mr. Lamm regarding the McGee case."

Wow, this is heavy stuff. Some guy assumes I was calling an attorney about a pending case.

If I remember correctly, I was actually calling Lamm regarding a case that brought into question the Arizona laws regarding digitally altered Internet pornography.

But, Jeez, it doesn't really matter. I could have been calling to say hi, or talk about the weather, or talk about my plans to short-sheet, wet-willie and red belly this goofy geek at Risk Management named Ted Howard.

Who knows? Would anybody other than desperate attorneys care?

Except that you guys, the taxpayers of Maricopa County, paid for the billable hours for Joe's attorneys to get Ted's affidavit and then write it up and present it to a federal judge.

I called Joe again to discuss this motion. His secretary, Mary, promised to give him the message. He never called back. I assume he'll now claim I never called.

I called Rachel Love, the author of the motion, to discuss her claims and to discuss how many billable hours it took her firm to write this weird screed.

And I wanted to thank her for praising me with faint damning.

Her secretary said Rachel refuses to discuss a pending case.

Lots of silence from the scoundrels who claim they felt they didn't get to talk enough about the case.

Like so many of Joe's antics, it's tough to stop laughing long enough to talk about the deadly serious freedoms he is trying to suppress.

He wants to shut up the only investigator willing to talk frankly about his crimes.

That means he's willing to shut down the First Amendment to protect his own hide.

Because what really has Joe angry is that much of my research and some of my own sources have proven useful to civil attorneys in the case and, if the U.S. Attorney can get up his nerve, will be critical to him, too.

This is not about keeping me from polluting a jury; this is about stopping stories and columns that have proven to generate more witnesses and damaging testimony implicating MCSO command staffers in the setup of Jefferson Davis McGee.

It's about putting a gag order on the truth about Joe Arpaio.

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Robert Nelson