Longform

Head on a skewer: Joe Arpaio was so obsessed with getting a hard-charging New Times writer prosecuted that he badgered Andy Thomas into making a fool of himself

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An internal investigation ended with 28 officers disciplined and one fired because of their cozy relationship with Brooks.

As part of his plea bargain, Brooks ceded ownership of the site, phoenixpolice.com, to the County Attorney's Office, which deleted the information before turning it over to the Phoenix Police Department.

As a direct result of the Brooks case, then-state Senator Marc Spitzer introduced legislation in early 1999 designed to rein in publication of personal information about peace officers on the Internet.

State senators on the Judiciary Committee considered the bill at a hearing that February.

Testifying on behalf of the Arizona Newspaper Association (a consortium mostly of daily publications) was lobbyist Phil MacDonnell, who told the committee that the proposed law conflicted with First Amendment issues. The Web is "speech," he said, and the bill would seek to regulate speech.

MacDonnell said the phrase "imminent and serious threat" moved the proposal closer to being acceptable to the ANA, because it was more precise. But he warned that the state's newspaper owners still had concerns about the part concerning the "culpable mental state" of the person who published the potentially dangerous information.

Five years later, MacDonnell would be intimately involved in the early stages of the John Dougherty investigation as Andy Thomas' second-in-command at the County Attorney's Office.

The Internet-publication bill sailed through the Senate and moved to the House of Representatives in March 1999. There, Judiciary Committee member Marilyn Jarrett said she supported it but wondered how it would be enforced.

"We have this problem," Jarrett said. "We have the Internet with all of this information about everyone. But how can we make the connect? We're all just scratching the surface of the problems we're going to see on this."

Representative Barry Wong picked up on that: "I support protecting the officers, but this is a law that can be challenged in the Supreme Court. Many legitimate entities can be publishing information on law enforcement that somebody could use against an officer." (Wong voted for the law anyway.)

Pat Cunningham of the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which had crafted the bill's language, told the lawmakers it was "aimed at private individuals, not public officeholders, who are running Web sites or placing public information on the Web. This is a criminal statute focusing on people who are kind of wildcatting out there, and placing police officers and their families at risk."

In the end, only six of the Arizona Legislature's 90 members voted against the Internet bill. Governor Hull signed it into law on May 19, 1999.

John Dougherty published his column that listed Joe Arpaio's address five years and two months after that. To this day, no one in the state of Arizona has been prosecuted under the law.


John Dougherty has been a news reporter for more than a quarter-century, in the Phoenix area and elsewhere. He has won many awards over the years, including the Arizona Press Club's Journalist of the Year award (three times).

The father of two college-age sons is a classic investigative reporter who is, yes, zealous about exposing scandal and scandalous characters. To that end, he authored groundbreaking pieces on the Keating Five, the shady business dealings that led to the criminal conviction of Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington, and on the machinations of now-incarcerated polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs.

Dougherty does not suffer fools gladly, and, in his world, these fools may include elected officials and their minions who refuse to comply with legitimate public-records requests.

By 2004, Dougherty was regularly taking on the local law enforcement fiefdom headed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose standing with voters always has been better than it's been with fellow cops, who generally despise his publicity-seeking antics.

To Arpaio and his public-relations team, you're either with them or you're the enemy. To them, John Dougherty was Enemy Number One.

By the time Dougherty published his July 2004 column with the sheriff's home address, he had become increasingly frustrated by what he saw as a constant run-around by the MCSO on his myriad public-records requests.

The list of what he wanted the Sheriff's Office to turn over included personnel records, receipts involving sales from jail vending machines, payroll records, and booking information. Sheriff's officials didn't even respond to some of his records requests, much less deny them.

Later in 2004, New Times filed the first of two lawsuits in Superior Court for MCSO documents.

(Arpaio won the first round of the public-records fight when Superior Court Judge Michael Jones concluded in 2005 that New Times' claims were "unsupported by anything other than argument and histrionics." But the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously reversed Jones' ruling February 7, noting that the MCSCO had fulfilled only one of nine public-records requests under consideration in the lawsuit in a timely manner.)

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin