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Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas: They're All About the Perp Walk

"You've got to be kidding."

That's what Don Stapley said as sheriff's deputies arrested him September 21 in the county parking garage. The county supervisor was so stunned, he said nearly the same thing, again, just a moment later: "You have got to be joking."

Someone at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office thought Stapley's quote was sufficiently amusing to include in the press release announcing his arrest later that day. It's the sort of embarrassing detail these guys delight in providing to reporters: "This guy's so arrogant, we came to arrest him on 100 criminal counts, and he thinks we're kidding! Can you believe it?"

But, two weeks later, the comment that once drew chuckles now seems downright prescient.

They had to be kidding — but they were not.

They actually arrested Don Stapley without an indictment, without a grand jury, without even consulting a prosecutor. In fact, they cuffed a county supervisor and hauled him off to court without bothering to secure charges against him.

Two weeks after the chaos of the arrest, the situation is clear: Maricopa County is captive to the whims of a police force all too eager to use its powers to harass its enemies and distract us from its manifold failures.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's men arrested Don Stapley not in the interest of justice, but to save face after a previous case against Stapley fell apart. They made up an excuse to parade him in front of television cameras, then insinuated that he was guilty of all sorts of crimes they'd never bothered to get an indictment for.

When the prosecutor ostensibly assigned to the case expressed reservation about those tactics, Arpaio's BFF, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, suddenly appointed new prosecutors to go after Stapley. Naturally, they were a pair of D.C.-based pundits more familiar with the Fox News studio than the politics of this county.

Surely, they must be kidding.


Don Stapley's bizarre arrest two weeks ago wasn't the first time that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas sought to arrest the county supervisor. It was merely the first time they succeeded.

Last December, a joint investigation by Thomas and Arpaio led to a 118-count indictment against Stapley, a Republican representing the East Valley.

As I wrote at the time, the charges against Stapley were overkill: He faced more than a decade in prison for what amounted to an error in paperwork. Meanwhile, Sheriff Arpaio made the same mistakes, with no repercussions.

But if the indictment was fairly silly, well, at least in that case they bothered to get one.

In 2008, procedure was followed: The Sheriff's Office developed a case and brought it to the County Attorney's Office, which took it to the grand jury, which issued an indictment. As everyone knows, a grand jury will indict anything from a ham sandwich to a can of tuna fish — it's not a sign of guilt. But at least it forces the prosecutors to make a case.

Last December, after the indictment, Thomas' office took the indictment to a judge, seeking a warrant for Stapley's arrest.

The judge refused.

Stapley, after all, holds public office in the same county that was prosecuting him. He wasn't a flight risk. Given a summons to court, the judge knew that he'd surely turn himself in.

When, at the judge's insistence, the summons was issued instead of an arrest warrant, go figure: Stapley did turn himself in. The system worked just the way it was supposed to.

For everyone, that is, except Sheriff Arpaio and County Attorney Thomas.

Thanks to the judge's denial, they missed their chance to parade a handcuffed Stapley past a leering mob of TV news crews. In the news business, we call this a "perp walk." There's no better way to humiliate a well-known defendant — or get free airtime for publicity-grubbing pols like Arpaio and Thomas.

But if Stapley didn't have to do the perp walk last December, well, the sheriff would see to it that Stapley was forced to do it eventually.

And on September 21, Arpaio got his chance. This time, there was no judge to speak on behalf of reason. The sheriff had skipped that step.

He did it on a technicality: An exception on the books allows cops to arrest a suspect, even if they haven't had time consult with a prosecutor. It's called a "probable cause arrest," and the cops use it to, say, arrest people caught in the act of robbing a bank — or in the robbery's immediate aftermath, when the suspect may well flee.

So the cop arrests the suspect and makes a "probable cause" statement: I think this man robbed a bank because I caught him standing outside it with $1 million in cash. The prosecutors then have 48 hours to follow up with an indictment, or a direct complaint: We, the State of Arizona, charge this man with bank robbery.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske