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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On July 8, 2004, a Dougherty column titled "Stick It to 'Em!" appeared in print and on the Web. Most of the column concerned the Phoenix City Council and its problems with the city-owned downtown convention center hotel.

The last section switched topics to Joe Arpaio's refusal to release details of his residential and commercial real estate holdings. This was a follow-up to a column Dougherty had written the week before ("Sheriff Joe's Real Estate Game"). The sheriff had redacted the information from County Recorder's Office records under another state statute designed to protect public officials' home addresses. The key here is that Arpaio was misusing the redaction statute to hide his commercial property dealings, even as his home address and other personal information continued to be available all over the Internet.

To point out the irony of the situation, Dougherty's July 8 column ended by listing the sheriff's home address.

Recently, Arpaio feigned ignorance about New Times on National Public Radio: "Is that a porno magazine? You're talking about the weekly paper they have to give away free?" he asked the reporter of a story that aired March 10.

But the truth is, Joe Arpaio has always been obsessed with the paper's coverage of him.

The sheriff told investigator John Stolze in a June 2005 interview that he first learned about the publication of his home address on the Thursday that the Dougherty column hit the streets and the Internet.

"I do keep all of the articles of the New Times," Arpaio said, "which means I have a file full of them. Every week they come out [with] very disturbing information, so I was aware of it when it came out."

Ava Arpaio, the sheriff's wife, told the investigator that her husband had been extremely upset when he got home and told her, "'Would you believe it? Dougherty put our address in the paper.' It made chills go up and down my back."

That evening, the Arpaios drove to a District 8 Republican meeting at a library in Scottsdale. The sheriff was a few months away from a victorious primary election against Dan Saban, a retired Mesa police commander who had won the endorsements of law enforcement organizations statewide and of Senator John McCain.

Dougherty approached the couple in the parking lot as they returned to their car and leveled a few questions at the sheriff. Arpaio said he wouldn't talk, jumped into his county car, inadvertently turned on his flashing red-and-blue police lights and drove off, as the reporter snapped photos with what he says was a disposable camera.

The following day, Arpaio filed an internal memo titled "Incidents at Mustang Library."

Arpaio (or an aide) wrote, "A person, who may have come out of the bushes, approached suddenly in the darkness, yelled at my wife and me that he was John Dougherty, and pointed a large object at us. Because of his recent articles, in the most recent of which Dougherty purposely printed the address of my home, and because in response to his earlier columns the New Times printed nasty letters that bordered on threatening me (if they were not outright threats), my wife and I were shocked at his pointing an object at us. The object proved to be a camera."

In hindsight, someone already may have alerted the sheriff to the Internet-publication law that John Dougherty allegedly had broken.

Arpaio wrote, "I am very concerned that Dougherty's publication of my home address reaches not only the local Phoenix audience, and therefore, my enemies, including some who have threatened me, but also the entire 'wired' world since the Phoenix New Times is available on their Web site."

Legally speaking, nothing immediately happened in the war between Joe Arpaio and John Dougherty.

But with New Year 2005 came a new county attorney, whose ascension would change the landscape on a host of fronts, not the least of which was the lingering "Dougherty matter."


Six weeks after Andrew Thomas took over from Rick Romley in January 2005, John Dougherty wrote, "Thomas looks like he's content to be Sheriff Joe Arpaio's handmaiden and to rubber-stamp Arpaio's increasingly dangerous violations of constitutional protections."

Dougherty marked a sea change from what had been a contentious relationship between the sheriff and Romley, whose clashes became increasingly public as the years passed.

In early 2004, Romley had announced his decision not to seek another term.

Thomas, a far-right conservative who had been trounced by Terry Goddard in a 2002 run for attorney general, took advantage of a split vote among more moderate Republicans to win the primary. He then easily defeated a weak Democratic rival in the November 2004 general election to win a four-year term.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin