Joe Arpaio, Clueless or Cunning? Sheriff Does His Sgt. Schultz Impersonation During Seven Hour Depo in Racial Profiling Lawsuit (Depo Attached)

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A cross between Ronald Reagan post-presidency and Sgt. Schultz from a Hogan's Heroes rerun: That's the impression Sheriff Joe Arpaio gave recently during a seven hour deposition under oath as part of the big Melendres vs. Arpaio racial-profiling lawsuit now working its way through federal court.

Under rigorous interrogation by David Bodney, attorney for the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Arpaio admitted that he had never read the complaint in the case, was unfamiliar with the details of the allegations of racial profiling therein, didn't know the content of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and had never read the Department of Justice's guidelines concerning the use of race in investigations, which would have applied to his deputies in the field when they were still operating under a 287(g) agreement with ICE.

Indeed, our seemingly hapless sheriff was completely uninterested in any claims against MCSO deputies regarding allegations of racial profiling. He expressed complete confidence that his men would never engage in the practice, and deferred to his staff, particularly Deputy Chief Brian Sands, as to why certain areas of Maricopa County were targeted for anti-immigration sweeps.

In one of the more amusing passages of a highly entertaining 306 page document, Arpaio confessed that he hadn't even bothered to read in its entirety his latest book, Joe's Law, co-written by Arpaio's slithery, long-time sycophant Len Sherman.

Asked if the 2008 book reflected his views, Arpaio waffled.

"I am not sure," Arpaio replied. "To the best of my knowledge, I haven't reviewed the book recently. In fact, I haven't even read the book...totally."

Questioned about sections of Joe's tome that speculated about a "reconquista" of the southwestern U.S., returning it to Mexico, or that compared -- unfavorably -- Mexican immigrants to putatively upstanding Italian immigrants like his parents, Arpaio once again blamed the dog, um, I mean, Sherman.

"I am going to say again, I did no research," Arpaio told Bodney. "This is my co-author -- his part of the book. So this is what he was saying, not me."

Heck, Arpaio doesn't even take responsibility for the book's subtitle, America's Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else That Threatens America. Bodney wondered whether Arpaio regarded illegal immigration as a "threat" to the country.

"I don't call it a threat on America per se," replied Joe.

"You know what is on the cover of your book...and on its title?" asked Bodney.

"Everybody doesn't believe what you read in the books, right?" countered Joe. "I am just telling you that that was there and whoever put that title there, I didn't oppose it."

Actually, no one should swallow whole what they read in Arpaio's book, filled as it is with bogus yarns about nonexistent plots on his life, how he helped break the French Connection (the New York cop who brought down the French Connection thinks otherwise), and how he once pulled over Elvis Presley back in the day (sure you did, Joe).

Arpaio's cluelessness extends far beyond his own memoirs, extending to ignorance over how possible sites for anti-immigrant sweeps are researched. Arpaio also displays a gross  lack of curiosity over allegations of racial profiling. You're left wondering if Arpaio's senile or has simply adopted a coy strategy aimed at throwing up roadblocks in Bodney's way, obfuscating as much as he can.

On the one hand, Bodney does coax Arpaio into owning some of his most damning statements concerning Mexican migrants and racial profiling. For instance, Arpaio concedes that he told GQ Magazine, "They check fruits and vegetables. How come they don't check people. No one talks about that...They're all dirty."

Arpaio cops to linking Mexican immigrants to the swine flu epidemic, and to making statements at a press conference in 2007 that "Ours is an operation where we want to go after illegals not the crime first...It's a pure program. You go after them, and you lock them up." You know, before you've determined if there's a crime or not.

In many cases, Bodney played videotape or entered press accounts into the record of Arpaio spewing his Archie Bunker-isms, practically admitting that he racially profiles. Bodney goes through the whole catalogue of the sheriff's stupidities, from Arpaio stating in a news clip from KPHO that he can tell who is illegal because they look like they "just came from Mexico," to his threat to raid Mesa again based on some negative statements made about him by the Mayor's wife (as reported in William Finnegan's New Yorker piece), and on to his extended foot-in-mouth moment on Glenn Beck's Fox News show, where Arpaio said he will continue to enforce federal immigration law even though he'd just been shorn of his 287(g) street authority by ICE.

Ironically, Arpaio admitted in his depo that it was the granting of that 287(g) street authority by ICE that allowed the MCSO to metastasize into an immigration enforcement agency. But when that federal grant of power was removed, the MCSO continued on as if nothing had happened, though Arpaio conceded that his men are "no longer ICE agents."

Arpaio insisted that his deputies don't profile based on ethnicity or race. How does he know? He trusts them and apparently believes them to be infallible.

"You don't think there is even a chance of racial profiling occurring today?" Bodney asks Arpaio at one point.

"Once again, I have confidence in my staff," responds the sheriff. "And they know how to supervise our deputies and our detention officers, so I rely on their expertise and management abilities."

Such an attitude conveniently allows for what in CIA parlance is referred to as "plausible deniability."

How does the MCSO pick the areas where it will perform sweeps? According to Arpaio, his department gets complaints, and he hands them off to Deputy Chief Brian Sands. Sands supposedly investigates the complaints, and Arpaio simply accepts his verdict. BTW, the sweeps themselves -- using traffic stops to ask drivers about their immigration status -- are not authorized under ICE guidelines, but Arpaio stated that ICE knew about the sweeps in advance, and so they must have been OK with the agency.

It was Sands who "researched" complaints from East Valley lawmakers such as state Sen. Russell Pearce, which turned into the pretext for a sweep. And it was he who made the decision to use a petition circulated by convicted public urinator, and anti-Mexican bigot, Buffalo Rick Galeener, as the excuse for a sweep near Bell and Cave Creek Roads in 2008.

Arpaio claimed that he was "not sure" who Galeener is, and that he was unfamiliar with the local anti-immigrant group Galeener belongs to, United for a Sovereign America. This, despite the fact that Arpaio has spoken to the group on more than one occasion. Bodney even introduced into evidence my May cover story "Ja, Joe!," which demonstrates Arpaio's links to nativist extremist organizations such as USA, and discusses Joe's support in the neo-Nazi camp.

When Bodney asks Joe if he'd ever read the piece, Joe equivocates:

Bodney: So you don't usually read New Times?

Arpaio: I wouldn't waste my time

Bodney: But did anyone bring this story to your attention?

Arpaio: Which story are we talking about?

Bodney: This article by Stephen Lemons.

Arpaio: This vicious front page you are talking about?

Bodney: That's right. the one that's got -- it is called "Ja, Joe!"...

Arpaio: I presume that is me.

Bodney: Presume. Have you seen this one before?

Arpaio: I may have.

Wish I could have been in the room for that exchange. The cover Arpaio refers to is a black, red and gray reproduction of an old National Socialist poster showing a cluster of hands in a fervent sieg heil salute.

Arpaio told him that it doesn't concern him that USA had been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as an extremist organization. He insisted, "I do not associate with racist groups," though his ties to USA argue otherwise.

"Let me put it this way, sheriff," Bodney offered of Galeener's petition for a sweep. "If you knew that that letter from these eight business persons around Cave Creek and Bell Roads had been put together at the instigation of someone who operates a Web page called, quote, I Hate Illegals, close quote, would it have made any difference in your decision to hand that petition to Chief Sands and say, `Look into it'?"

"Not really," Joe answered, explaining that he figured Sands would sort out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to requests for anti-immigrant sweeps.

Actually, I would suggest that Arpaio, Sands, et al. never met a request for an anti-brown dragnet they didn't like.

Early on in the deposition, Bodney summed up the issue at hand by asking Joe, the lawyer's tongue firmly in cheek, "You are the head of MCSO, correct?" Arpaio replied in the affirmative, but when pressed, he seemed less sure. Whether he likes it or not, Joe's ultimately responsible for whatever shenanigans his underlings get up to. As the jefe in a paramilitary organization, the blame is ultimately his to shoulder. 

(Update: You can read the entire deposition for yourself, in these three parts: part one; part two; and part three.)

According to the last legal filing by the plaintiffs, Arpaio's Chief Deputy David Hendershott is scheduled to be deposed on January 8. Too bad these things aren't public. Hendershott's depo should be two tons of fun.

Note: There's so much in the above PDFs of the transcript, that it was difficult to cover it all in one blog post. However, there's one other passage I should mention, where Bodney hones in on statements Arpaio made to a hornets nest of nativists in Houston, TX back in September. There, Arpaio talked about the pink underwear, and how he he always has two reasons for doing things.

"I always have an official reason so I can win the lawsuits," Joe confided to the nativists present. "And then I have my reason and my reason is they [his prisoners] hate pink."

Later in the depo, when discussing the "200 Mexican march" to a segregated section of Tent City, Arpaio blithely claimed that the purpose of this segregation was to make it easier for the Mexican consulate to visit the Mexican nationals in MCSO custody. 

"Now," wondered Bodney, "is that the official reason in hopes of winning this lawsuit or is there a personal reason that may be different?"

Arpaio's lawyer quickly objected to the question, but Arpaio eventually answered that his statements made in Houston were made as a joke, and that, regarding the segregation of inmates, "I did not do this as a joke."

Still, the suggestion persists that Arpaio has one line for the record, and another that may reveal actual motivations.

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