I really wanted to see Joe Arpaio get roasted on October 1, during an event to raise money for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's animal posse.
I called the MCSO and asked how to buy tickets for the shindig. A posse man who identified himself only as Commander Tom told me to show up at WestWorld in Scottsdale with $100 and that I would be "more than welcome." The posse was expecting 500 guests and hoped to raise $100,000. Everything went well until he asked my name.
"John Dougherty," I said.
"Are you the guy from New Times?" he asked.
"Yeah," I replied.
"I'll have to call you back in a minute," the posse man said.
Half an hour later, Commander Tom left me a voice message: "This is a private party, and they want to pass on you coming or for anybody from New Times [coming]," he said politely, and somewhat regretfully.
This isn't the first time Arpaio's banned New Times from an event. While others in the news media were given the red carpet, he refused to allow me to attend the July 2004 pre-election Tent City concert featuring his lackey Glen Campbell (who owed Arpaio for allowing him to avoid incarceration in a tent following his drunk-driving conviction).
Last September, Arpaio ordered his thugs to force me out the door of the Phoenix Civic Center on the night of the 2004 primary election because I dared to ask him a question.
"Get this guy out of here," he said, as I approached with tape recorder in hand.
Last winter, Arpaio's goons refused me entry to the gala inauguration for his fourth term; deputies turned me away at the door of the publicly owned sheriff's training facility.
All three of the events were covered by more than a dozen local newspapers and radio and television stations who spend more time blowing the sheriff in print and during broadcasts than seriously covering his $400-million-a-year operation.
For a guy who calls himself the "toughest sheriff in America," Arpaio's terrified about coming into contact with anyone other than his staunchest supporters. Fashioning himself as a modern-day J. Edgar Hoover, Arpaio demands complete adulation. I was about to write that Arpaio's a Hoover without the penchant for women's underwear, but his cowardice in dealing with detractors makes me believe he must be just as big a sissy as his hero.
The 73-year-old sheriff's wrath extends to more than just New Times, which has been exposing his incompetence for more than a decade. His public relations peons are now refusing to admit certain other journalists from attending his self-serving events.
For instance, Sonoran News reporter Curtis Riggs, who went to a September 23 press conference in Arpaio's 19th-floor office in the Wells Fargo Building to cover an event featuring Carefree mayor Ed Morgan and the sheriff.
Riggs had every right to be there, since his weekly paper routinely covers Carefree government. But the Sonoran News is the only other paper in the Valley that publishes serious, fair and critical coverage of the MCSO, so Riggs was deemed unworthy.
Riggs tells me he was refused entry to the news conference by one of Arpaio's top media censors -- Lieutenant Paul Chagolla.
"I'm denying you," Chagolla told Riggs twice.
Riggs said he could see about 20 other reporters and photographers in the suite's conference room. Rather than argue with Chagolla, who was surrounded by armed cops, Riggs packed up and left.
"Chagolla was awfully smug about it, and I'm sure Joe Arpaio got his kicks as soon as he heard the story," Riggs said.
Unfortunately, this is far from a laughing matter, though it's just another example of Arpaio's disdain for the constitutional rights of Arizonans.
Stoking a propaganda machine that's turned him into a worldwide celebrity is far more important to Arpaio than protecting our civil rights and deploying a competent police force that can protect the public from crime.
Few have the gall to criticize Arpaio.
After all, he's the only elected official in Maricopa County who's got a police force at his disposal to harass, arrest or incarcerate anyone he perceives to be an enemy. No one wants to end up in his filthy gulags on trumped-up charges, running the risk of getting beaten to a pulp by the jail gangs that dominate inside.
Not content to just violate the First Amendment rights of the principal newspaper covering the Carefree area, Arpaio's also intimidating the small town's government.
Last month, he bullied Carefree into announcing that it will no longer allow members of its own town council to publicly criticize the MCSO, which is under contract to provide police services to the municipality.
Last spring, several members of the Carefree council criticized the sheriff's office for its slow responses to calls for help in the community. Council members were particularly aggravated that it took 45 minutes for MCSO deputies to arrive on a burglary call after citizens reported masked men with crowbars in their yard.
Naturally, Arpaio was infuriated over the criticism, threatening publicly to cancel his office's contract with Carefree.
Don't tell anybody, but an MCSO insider whispered to me that Arpaio never really intended to eliminate the contract. He was just making an example of upstart Carefree.
The insider said Arpaio instigated the controversy knowing it would generate publicity that would further his well-groomed image as a bad ass. After slapping Carefree silly, what small-town mayor relying on the MCSO would run the risk of leaving citizens without police protection by criticizing the combative geezer in the future?
Over the summer, Carefree investigated whether it could afford to operate its own police force and concluded it would cost far more than its annual $360,000 contract with MCSO.
Carefree mayor Morgan's now trying to slither back into Arpaio's good graces, literally begging the sheriff to keep his deputies in town. Which, of course, Joe's happy to do because there's no way he would ever give up a lucrative contract to provide half-assed police services to the community.
Here's what I mean by slither. In an effort to further stroke Arpaio's fragile ego, Morgan decreed that all complaints about the sheriff's office must be relayed through Town Marshal Matthew Ecker, rather than discussed at town council meetings attended by the public and the press.
Just to make sure there's no possibility that anyone in Carefree will have the opportunity to criticize the sheriff, Morgan also eliminated the sheriff's office's monthly report on its contracted activities in town from the council's agenda.
Arpaio's living proof that the Arizona Constitution needs to be changed to make the office of county sheriff no longer an elected position.
It's dangerous to mix political power with law enforcement and the operation of jails. It's too easy for egomaniacs like Arpaio to get elected and then abuse their police powers to cower any future political opposition.
It's time to strip politics from the office of sheriff and turn over the position to a law enforcement professional who's accountable to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. I'm saying that the supes should be appointing the sheriff, something that even Arpaio pretended to favor when he was first running for office.
A monumental screw-up by the Maricopa County Elections Department will be the target of legislative hearings early next year.
State Senator Jack Harper informed me he will hold hearings about the September 2004 District 20 Republican primary recount in which 489 new votes inexplicably appeared. The sudden appearance of the additional votes changed the outcome of the election.
"I think there may be some negligence on the county's part," said Harper, who's chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee.
Harper, a second-term Republican from Surprise, said he's particularly upset over the county's failure to require a representative of Elections Systems & Software, Inc. to appear in court to explain why there was such a wide variation in the total number of votes. Elections Systems' optical-scanner voting machines detected the variance between the primary and recount.
The county deliberately took steps to make sure Elections Systems employee Tina Polich wasn't served with a subpoena to appear in court to explain how the machines could've had such a wide variation in tabulating votes ("All Bark and No Bite," July 14, 2005). Although she's employed by the private company, Polich keeps an office in the elections department.
Polich's absence from a one-day hearing before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eddward Ballinger on September 23, 2004 to certify the results of the recount allowed Elections Systems to cover up evidence that there may have been a malfunction of a voting machine during the District 20 recount.
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Polich later told investigators from the County Attorney's Office "that there could have been a malfunction with the machine," which resulted in the 18.3 percent increase in the number of early ballots during the recount.
Senator Harper said the county's contract with Elections Systems requires the company to appear in court if questions arise over the performance of voting machines. He said evidence now shows that the county actually helped the firm prevent any court appearance from happening.
"There's pretty damning evidence that the county allowed ES&S not to fulfill the terms of its contract," Harper says.
I applaud Harper for stepping up the pressure on county elections officials. I hope he gets to the bottom of a mess that's undermining the public's already flagging faith that elections can be fairly and accurately conducted in this county.