Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio, Andy Thomas Lose Again: Arizona ACORN Protesters Beat the Rap on Bogus MCSO Trespassing Charges

To cop a line from Scarface's Tony Montana, every canine has its day. Every kitty cat, too. I've been busier than blue tick hound with a briar patch full of brer rabbits, so I didn't get to blog about this last week when it happened, but ACORN's doggies and kitties scored a victory on Friday, May 8. That's when Justice of the Peace Armando Gandarilla dismissed bogus trespassing charges against two ACORN staff members, Monica Sandschafer and Kristy Theilen, who were arrested on December 15 as they sat peacefully in a waiting area outside the Maricopa Board of Supervisors' offices.

Sandschafer, Theilen and two others had been part of an action minutes earlier where some 40 members of ACORN and the local activist organization Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability showed up at an executive BOS meeting dressed Halloween-style as pets -- dogs, cats, and at least one chicken. Of course, it didn't take too long for befuddled members of Protective Services, the guys who guard county buildings, and their masters at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to order these domesticated critters to amscray.

At the time, the whole point of the exercise was to lampoon the fact that MCSA could not get on the BOS agenda to talk about how Arpaio was wasting county dollars and profiling people, while the real work of law enforcement was being ignored. Though then BOS chair Andrew Kunasek, a slavish supporter of the sheriff, refused to put the sheriff's critics on the agenda, at every supervisors' meeting, there was a "Pet of the Month" featured, which County Animal Care and Control was offering for adoption.

"If it takes dressing up as animals to not be ignored, then we'll dress up as animals," said MCSA organizer Raquel Teran at the time. "They always get on the agenda, why can't we?"

But when the rest of the canines and felines vamoosed, Sandschafer and Theilen, as well as ACORN member Guillarmina Pichardo and community organizer Ayensa Milan stayed behind, sitting quietly in the waiting area, hoping to speak with Kunasek, or make an appointment to meet with him at another time.

True to form, Protective Services and the MCSO freaked out, and 15 thick-necked gendarmes descended on the women and arrested them. They were charged with trespassing, and had to spend the day in Joe's gray bar hotel before being released. If this sounds like something that would transpire in the old Soviet Union rather than then U.S. of A., well, all I can say is, "Welcome to Maricopa County!"

The trial took place this past Friday, with five MCSO and Protective Services personnel testifying for the prosecution. At one particularly ridiculous point in the trial, the county prosecutor held up one of the masks worn by the women, in an effort to prove they had no business being in the BOS offices.

"The fact that we were wearing masks," recounted Sandschafer,"they implied that was some kind of a threat. So they held up Kristy's dog mask. I don't know if you remember that, it was fuzzy, and it played music. It was like a stuffed animal on your face. It's certainly not a very intimidating or scary mask. Everybody was chuckling when they held it up."

The pair were charged under A.R.S. 13-1503, "criminal trespass in the 2nd degree," a class 2 misdemeanor, which hypothetically could've garnered them four months in the pokey and/or a $750 fine. The main argument of the prosecution was that security asked them to leave, so they had to leave. But 13-1503 doesn't say that. To commit that particular misdemeanor, someone has to be "knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully." The women had business to transact -- getting an appointment to meet with Supervisor Kunasek. How could that be "knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully"?

So, after the prosecution presented its case, Sandschafer and Theilen's attorneys moved for dismissal on the grounds that the prosecution had not fulfilled its burden to prove that 13-1503 had been violated. JP Gandarilla agreed, and the case was dismissed. Charges are still pending against the other two women, but it's expected they will eventually be dropped as well. ACORN is considering filing a lawsuit against the county, asserting that the constitutional rights of ACORN's people were violated.

If they do sue, and win, you know who will pay that tab? County taxpayers. And there's more to come. Days after their arrest, Sandschafer and Theilen, along with ACORN members Jason Odhner and Joel Nelson, were collared during a public BOS meeting by MCSO goons because they were applauding one of the speakers. They're facing charges of "disorderly conduct," essentially, for clapping.

Fortunately, all these folks have good lawyers who are working for them pro bono, otherwise their defense would cost them a few thousand dollars a piece. My prediction is that eventually ACORN will again beat the rap, and sue the pants off the county for false arrest and imprisonment. (They each had to spend eight to ten hours in jail over this nonsense.)

Someone should attempt to transcend the thick skulls of the clodhopper cops at Protective Services and MCSO, and remind them that they do not live in pre-fall-of-communism East Germany, but rather the United States of America, where citizens are allowed to petition their government, visit their elected officials, and even (gasp) clap at public forums. Sadly, these oafs may be beyond such explanations, and county taxpayers will continue to pay the price for their gross stupidity, as well as the blockheaded intransigence of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for not dropping these charges strait out of the gate.

PS: Thanks for the correction, Steve. Duly noted. 

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons