Feathered Bastard

George Gascon Was Threatened with Termination by Dim Mesa Pols

Mesa Police Chief George Gascon's adios as he packs it in for the City by the Bay is showing up local Mesa politicians for the hayseeds that they are.

As reported in the East Valley Tribune by Sonu Munshi, Gascon admitted to her that unnamed Mesa officials wanted to sack him after his trip to Washington, D.C. in April to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's 287(g) hearing.

"I was not pressured to resign," Gascon confided to Munshi. "I was told I would get terminated."

Gascon's trip was cleared by Mesa City Manager Chris Brady. Brady even looked over Gascon's remarks to the Congressional committee in advance. And though there was a flap over Gascon's trip being funded by the activist group Respect/Respeto upon his return, qualms over that were calmed when Gascon decided to pick up the tab for his trip.

What really got Brady and Mayor Scott Smith all worked up were Gascon's responses to questions from the committee, specifically from the Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who was chairing the hearing.

I was there in D.C. to live blog the event. Lofgren asked Gascon about the MCSO's now-infamous raid on the Mesa City Library, a raid Mesa was not informed about in advance and could have resulted in a shootout between police agencies.

Gascon criticized Sheriff Arpaio for the raid, and described the "large numbers of sheriff's officers in tactical gear storming two buildings," all to collar members of the Hispanic cleaning crew. Gascon also described how he had to provide security for protesters of Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweep in Mesa.

What was Gascon supposed to do, decline to answer questions from committee members? His answers certainly seemed to be in line with his prepared statement, which did not mention Arpaio by name, but alluded to his ham-fisted tactics.

"Often poorly conceived and politically motivated enforcement efforts are placing officers in harm's way," stated Gascon in his remarks, "leading to accusations of police misconduct." 

No doubt Gascon was aware he was going to get some flak for the trip, but he did it anyway. In my book, that's called intestinal fortitude.

It'd be one thing if Gascon wasn't doing his job, but since Gascon took over in 2006, crime has taken a 31 percent nosedive in the city. Maybe Brady and Smith have been too busy quaking in their loafers for fear of Sheriff Joe to notice.

Both men denied that Gascon was told he'd be axed, though both men admitted they'd had words with the Chief over his comments at the hearing.

"You betcha I had some strong conversations with the chief about how disappointed I was," Brady informed Munshi.

"You betcha"? Did this dolt just step off the plane with the Wackjob from Wasilla (aka, Sarah Palin), or what?

Brady's main concern should be the safety of Mesa's residents, not whether Joe Arpaio is enraged over Gascon's criticism of him and his agency.

Mayor Smith "denied there was any direct pressure on him or anyone else to get rid of Gascon," according to Munshi. But Smith's assertion is contradicted by remarks made by Arpaio to writer Bill Finnegan for his New Yorker profile of the Sheriff.

"I knew it!" the sheriff exclaims when one of his deputies says he heard Smith's wife say something critical about him. "I never trusted that mayor. He's pro-immigrant. He's never going to fire that chief. We gotta raid Mesa again."

That statement, "He's never going to fire that chief," certainly implies that Arpaio was leaning on Smith to do just that.

Gascon explained to Munshi that there was "no question that events unfolded here that accelerated my desire to move elsewhere." Not that anyone can blame the guy for wanting to trade downtown Mesa for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Also, San Francisco, a proud city of immigrants, is more concerned with Gascon addressing serious crime there, not chasing after dishwashers and landscapers.

So many Arizonans are so obsessed with rounding up brown folk that they're blind to how that obsession negatively impacts their self-interests. You know, stuff like living in a safe community. 

There's another name for that obsession. It's called bigotry. I'd be tempted to say the bigots get what they deserve, but unfortunately, they end up dragging the rest of us down with them. Their collective obtuseness is why a place like Mesa would be hard up to retain a fella like Chief Gascon for long, even if San Fran wasn't calling.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons