Using police investigations to smear political rivals would be nothing new for Arpaio. But turning a teenaged rape victim into a rape suspect would be a whole new publicity ploy for the man who has long kept a team of detectives busy snooping into the affairs of political opponents and investigating the sources of damaging internal sheriff's office leaks to the press.
James Cozzolino, co-founder of the anti-Arpaio Web site Arpaio.com, filed a lawsuit June 1 against Arpaio and the sheriff's office. Cozzolino alleges that deputies have illegally bugged his house and telephone for years, followed him, spent months rooting through his trash and wrongfully seized his prized 1974 Pantera automobile.
"All of the foregoing actions were undertaken for the purpose of silencing one of . . . Arpaio's vocal critics," Cozzolino's lawsuit alleges.
The Arpaio.com Web site has become a central depository of information about internal operations inside the sheriff's office. The Internet site includes gossip and insider information that appears to be written by sheriff's office employees who want to leak damaging information to the public. It has become a source of information for the media and political opponents.
"It's been causing us a lot of heartaches," admits MacPherson, Arpaio's spokeswoman and image consultant.
Cozzolino was arrested by sheriff's deputies after a bizarre incident inside a Fountain Hills bowling alley where he accidentally discharged a firearm. The sheriff's office took advantage of the opportunity and raided Cozzolino's home, seizing his computer and other personal belongings that still have not been returned.
The computer, Cozzolino says, contains years of detailed files he had compiled on allegedly illegal operations inside Arpaio's office.
During Cozzolino's trial last winter, he received an unsigned letter purportedly from a deputy who detailed how the sheriff's office had conducted elaborate and illegal surveillance of Cozzolino for several years (see Robert Nelson's December 25, 2003, column at www.phoenixnewtimes.com).
The trial concluded with Cozzolino's pleading guilty to discharging the gun, followed by Arpaio's asking the judge to sentence Cozzolino to several years in prison. True to form, the sheriff claimed Cozzolino had threatened his life four years earlier.
The judge stuck to the case at hand and sentenced Cozzolino to four months in jail and five years on probation.
Arpaio's willingness to use his police powers to silence opponents has chilled public opposition to his policies.
"There are people who will not endorse Arpaio's opponents because they are afraid of retaliation," says Leo Mahoney, first vice chairman of the county Republican Executive Guidance Committee.
That's why a lot of prominent Republicans have not publicly backed anybody in the sheriff's race, choosing instead to register their displeasure with Arpaio by denying him the party's official endorsement for the September primary, Mahoney says.
One of the few high-profile Republicans publicly endorsing Dan Saban is Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker.
"You'll hear a lot of people say they won't make a statement against Arpaio because they are afraid it will come back to bite them," says Hawker, mayor of a city that strongly supported Matt Salmon for governor. "I don't care. I never have. I just think Dan [Saban] would do a whole lot better job."
Joe Arpaio's toughest-sheriff-in-the-U.S. shtick isn't impressing a bevy of other cops.
In fact, police organizations are joining jail-abuse victims' families and Republican leaders in expressing outrage over his policies.
An informal coalition of peace officers' groups is actively campaigning against Arpaio for reelection. So far, nine police organizations have endorsed Dan Saban in the Republican primary, with none endorsing Joe Arpaio.
Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, a legislative and political organization that represents more than 6,500 law enforcement officers across the state, says low pay and Arpaio's use of intimidation tactics on his own employees have destroyed Maricopa County deputy morale.
"If somebody speaks out against the sheriff, they can almost be assured an internal investigation will be undertaken and any promising position a deputy may have will be in jeopardy of being lost," Livingston says.
Chris Gerberry of the Maricopa County Deputies Association worked for Arpaio until 1999, when he released information to county supervisors and the press documenting how severe understaffing of detention officers had increased the risk of violence against prisoners and jail guards.
Gerberry was fired soon after making the disclosure. He filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, and last year a judge ordered that he be reinstated as a deputy. Arpaio has appealed the ruling.