Holding his fire: AG Terry Goddard discusses Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-immigration sweeps, calls news reports "troubling."

C'mon, Terry. Sheriff Joe's a bad man. You can take him.

If there's one thing you can say about Attorney General Terry Goddard, it's that he doesn't readily take the bait offered him. While discussing another issue with him that I'll be reporting on later, I took a moment to toss him a whiffle ball or two on Sheriff Joe's persistently insane anti-immigrant sweeps, wherein the Sheriff acts as a magnet for violence and encourages face-offs between protesters and counter-protesters.

Instead of pounding those whiffle balls into the frickin' ground, Goddard tapped them lightly, refusing to out-and-out condemn the Sheriff and his heavy-handed, Robert Mugabe-like tactics. The AG would only say he's "very concerned" by the situation, and that if the allegations made by Mayor Phil Gordon in his strongly-worded letter to the feds are true, then "there is a very serious problem here."

There's a very serious problem alright. The state's top officials -- Goddard and Gov. Napolitano --both putative progressives, need to grow some vertebrae and play hardball with Maricopa County's corrupt, sadistic Sheriff. What are they waiting for? For one of Arpaio's raids to turn into the O.K. Corral? Personally, I think the tide is against Arpaio and all that he stands for. The political risk to Goddard and Napolitano is minimal. Would there be some fallout? Certainly, but it would be clear to the majority of Arizonans who the white-hat-wearers are. Arpaio's already got a corner on the black ones.

The short give-and-take's below. Goddard is so careful in his remarks that you should really read Mayor Gordon's letter for contrast. You can check the PDF of it, here. If Gordon keeps this up, we should nominate the guy for a medal. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before Arpaio tries to trump up some charge on Hizzoner, and drag him off to the hoosegow in handcuffs.

Can you explain why you aren't investigating Sheriff Joe's so-called "crime suppression sweeps"? At the very least, why not join Gordon in asking the Justice Department to investigate?

Goddard: I read the Mayor’s letter, and I think he raises a bunch of serious questions with some backup information that certainly should get the notice of the Justice Department. They have jurisdiction over racial profiling, I don’t. And though we have some civil rights jurisdiction in this office, it relates to housing and it relates to public accommodations and it relates to voting and employment. We’ve gone through this before on other allegations of profiling, and determined that we had no Arizona law jurisdiction. So we couldn’t do an investigation under this particular set of charges. That’s why the Mayor – he didn’t ask my permission -- but it was appropriate that he went straight to the Justice Department.

Why is there this hesitancy on your part to do something similar to what Gordon's done?

Goddard: I didn’t say that there was. However, there’s a jurisdiction issue, so his complaint was appropriately sent to the agency with jurisdiction, and that was the Justice Department. We do represent some law enforcement clients who have had issues with racial profiling. In some ways, we’re sort of the experts in the field. At least as to what they should be doing. That’s something I’ve spoken out [on] before, and I’m happy to do it again. To the degree that can be constructive, that would be terrific. If it’s seen as a condemnation of the Sheriff, so be it.

The question, I think, is pretty clear that you can’t pull someone over selectively because they’re a particular race. That’s not enforcing the law, that’s enforcing something else. If in fact what the mayor says is true…that only brown people got arrested, I think there is a very serious problem here. I’ve not hesitated to say that and will continue to.

If you were to have a press conference tomorrow on this and condemn the Sheriff's tactics, that would have a huge impact. Is that something you’ve ever thought about?

Goddard: Initially, no, very frankly, because we try to have a certain amount of cooperation within the various agencies of law enforcement. So the first response, is -- is there some way to work this out without throwing thunderbolts at each other? And that’s my preference. But I agree that issues have gotten beyond that…We might have to do something far more public. But I have no immediate intentions to go after the Sheriff or anybody else in law enforcement. But I am meeting with the Mayor, and I am evaluating what he’s had to say, and what I hear from the news accounts.

At the very first impression, I think that everybody needs to understand what racial profiling is all about, why it’s so insidious, why it threatens the rights of all of us, if in fact that’s what’s happening. And whereas I don’t want to jump to unsupported conclusions, certainly what I’ve read is very, very troubling. Going after people for broken tail lights and using huge amounts of law enforcement resources to do it, in my judgment is not the best way to deal with serious crime problems in this community. It’s something else that’s being served here. The Mayor drew his own conclusions. I still have not drawn mine, but I’m very concerned here.

Sheriff Arpaio still brags that he's investigating your office regarding former State Treasurer David Peterson, though most people regard his investigation as bogus. Do you care to respond?

Goddard: I really can’t, because he’s an independent official. He has the authority and then almost the obligation to follow up complaints that he receives. And that’s what he says he’s doing here. I have called upon him on several occasions to basically conclude it. Because now we're in April. His original complaint was April of last year. It’s been a year. As far as I know there have been no other interviews [by the MCSO]. No other evidence produced. We produced a massive amount of documentary evidence at his request, at huge expense. That’s behind us. They’ve had a lot of time to evaluate it. I don’t want to characterize it because it looks like I’m trying to influence whatever investigation he may be doing. But it’s time it came to an end.

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