Joe Arpaio Is OK with Deputies Drinking on Duty (Audio)

If recent polls are to be believed, Sheriff Joe Arpaio trails Democratic challenger Paul Penzone by double digits, signalling the end may be near for the 84 year-old GOP icon, who recently was charged with criminal contempt of court by the U.S. Department of Justice for his obstreperous behavior in the federal racial-profiling case, Melendres v. Arpaio

But should you need another reminder of how corrupt Arpaio's regime continues to be, here's one more: an audio file (below) recently released by the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which contains an interview of Arpaio by investigators from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. In it, Arpaio says it's okay for deputies to drink on duty, and that money was no object when it came to financing the probe of a cockamamie anti-Arpaio conspiracy theory, now known as the Seattle investigation.

The recorded interview took place as part of the DPS investigation into allegations of fraud involving Arpaio's favorite deputy, Brian Mackiewicz, who was assigned to babysit Seattle-based confidential informant and purported computer whiz Dennis Montgomery. The eccentric CI supposedly had evidence of a massive anti-Joe plot involving federal Judge G. Murray Snow, the trial judge in Melendres; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and a number of others.
Mackiewicz was alleged to have padded his overtime hours during the investigation, claiming OT while he actually was bar- and winery-hopping in Seattle. The deputy repeatedly has denied these allegations, and on October 5, the AG's office dropped the case, deciding there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing and no reasonable likelihood of conviction. Upon announcing its decision, the AG's office made its official turn-down notice public, and late last week it released the DPS case report, which summarizes interviews conducted as part of the inquiry.

How much overtime Mackiewicz took while in Seattle is not revealed in the documents that have been released so far. Additional documents are being redacted for future release. 

In the 24-minute recording, Arpaio tells the DPS detectives that he doesn't know how much overtime Mackiewicz put in for, but he acknowledges that it was a lot. He seems unconcerned that his deputy may have overstated his hours, viewing that possibility as the price of doing business. 

"It never entered my mind as to what it would cost," Arpaio says of the investigation, later adding, "If it cost money, it cost money."

Arpaio agrees that whenever Mackiewicz was in the presence of  Dennis Montgomery, Mackiewicz was on duty. One DPS investigator asks: If Mackiewicz was with the CI in a bar, would that count as being on duty as well?

"Well, I imagine it would," the sheriff says, before going off on a tangent about his time dealing with informants while he was with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

"That's law enforcement," Arpaio states. "You can't control hours when you're dealing with informers sometimes."

Photographs of Mackiewicz in wineries, apparently while he was in Seattle, have popped up on Facebook in the past. One ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend of his had access to Mackiewicz's time sheets and told investigators that Mackiewicz had been on duty while at Seattle bars and wineries, sometimes with women he had flown into Seattle from out of state. (It was, in fact, Mackiewicz's ex-gal pal who dropped a dime to the MCSO about his Seattle escapades.)

Was Mackiewicz permitted to consume alcohol while on duty? one detective asks.

"If you're trying to develop an investigation with an informer, I imagine if you had to have a drink with him ... I don't think that's against our policy," the sheriff responds.

What is the MCSO policy regarding the consumption of alcohol on duty? another investigator asks.

"I believe when you're in a situation when you're undercover, developing information, that you can do it," Arpaio says, then admits, "I haven't read the policy."

Arpaio goes on to say that Mackiewicz was not undercover during the operation, but rather that he was "developing information with the informer," presumably as a justification for the consumption of alcohol on duty.

But would Mackiewicz have been allowed to be inebriated? the sheriff is asked.

"You mean when he's undercover or is dealing with an informant and gets drunk doing so?" Arpaio replies. "I don't know, every case is different. I mean, if you got drunk to save a life, I don't know if it would be worth getting drunk or not. ... If you had to stay there and had 10 beers because the informant is drinking 10 beers and you want to get the information out of him, I don't know. I don't think the policy says how many — I don't know what the policy says on that. I know how I feel about it."

Actually, the MCSO's policy regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages while on duty is, as you might imagine, very restrictive. Specifically, it states that MCSO employees cannot consume alcoholic beverages while on duty, unless they have "prior supervisory consent." Examples of when drinking would be allowed include undercover operations or authorized training sessions for the purposes of DUI patrol.

Even when authorized to consume alcohol, undercover detectives must adhere to stringent rules. The following is taken directly from the MCSO's manual of policies and procedures:

Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages while On-Duty: Officers authorized to consume alcoholic beverages while participating in a covert operation shall adhere to the following guidelines:

A. The maximum number of drinks that may be consumed by personnel in an eight-hour shift is three.

1. Authorization from a supervisor shall be obtained prior to personnel exceeding the three-drink limit.

2. Personnel that have exceeded the three-drink limit, without prior supervisor approval, shall immediately contact a supervisor and explain the circumstances.

B. Personnel authorized to consume alcoholic beverages shall not exceed a .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) reading at any time during the covert operation. Sobriety or Intoxilyzer tests shall be administered on a periodic basis to authorized personnel participating in an undercover operation. Failure to voluntarily submit to these tests may result in disciplinary action for the employee, up to and including termination.

C. Personnel shall not drive a vehicle in any of the following circumstances:

1. The officer has exceeded the three-drink limit.

2. The officer feels that he may be impaired, even to the slightest degree, by the alcoholic beverages he has consumed.

3. The officer feels that it would not be in the best interests of either the Office or himself if he drove, after consuming alcoholic beverages, regardless of the amount consumed.

D. Upon completion of the shift, every officer who has consumed alcoholic beverages during a covert operation shall complete and submit a memorandum to their supervisor. The memorandum shall document the circumstances surrounding the alcoholic beverage consumption, including the type and amount of alcoholic beverages consumed.

This policy is not unique to the MCSO. According to Jack Lane, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which certifies all police officers in the state, most law-enforcement agencies have similar restrictions when it comes to boozing.

I asked Lane when, in general, cops are allowed to consume alcohol on duty. Responding via e-mail, Lane wrote:

"Normally under very controlled circumstances where an officer is undercover. Most agency policy requires supervisor approval and close supervision during the operation itself."

During previous conversations with New Times, Mackiewicz admitted to visiting wineries and bars while in Seattle but contended that he was off duty whenever he did so and always spent his own money. When I called him again for this article, I asked Mackiewicz if he'd ever consumed alcohol while on duty in Seattle.

"Absolutely not," he stated. He also denied that any photos of him at wineries or bars in Seattle were taken while he was on duty. And if someone alleges otherwise, that person is wrong, he said.

Apparently that would include a female witness interviewed by the MCSO for its original investigation of Mackiewicz, which ended up being conflicted out to the AG's office and DPS. The DPS case report alleges that the woman visited Mackiewicz in Seattle from May 9 through May 11, 2014. The MCSO told DPS Mackiewicz’s time cards showed that the deputy claimed to be working during the same dates.

Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan and Captain Steve Bailey also were interviewed by DPS. Sheridan told investigators that Mackiewicz was given a lot of latitude with overtime while he was in Seattle, but that he did have to tell Bailey to "rein in" Mackiewicz's OT. As a result, Bailey sent Sergeant Travis Anglin to Seattle to make sure Mackiewicz complied. So, for a little while anyway, the babysitter had a babysitter. And the number of hours Mackiewicz was claiming declined.

The chief deputy agreed with investigators that Mackiewicz was not an undercover detective during the investigation and that unless a deputy was undercover, drinking on duty was a no-no.

But in his interview, Bailey seemed to give Mackiewicz some wiggle room, saying at one point that Mackiewicz was "probably" not allowed to be at a winery while on duty, and that MCSO detectives do meet CIs at bars and that is considered normal.

Interestingly, Arpaio told the DPS investigators that he was not involved in the "nuts and bolts" of the Seattle operation, and that Mackiewicz only briefed him "once in a while." This contradicts Arpaio's own testimony last year during his contempt trial, when he acknowledged instigating the Seattle investigation in late 2013 and ordering Mackiewicz and Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo to Seattle. The probe was to last for more than a year.

Arpaio also testified last year that he was regularly briefed on the case, that he once met Montgomery during a visit to Phoenix by the latter, and that he received a faxed timeline from Montgomery about the purported conspiracy against him. Moreover, Arpaio copped to typing a memo about the case on the back of Montgomery's fax. 

Indeed, when Bailey was asked who ran the Seattle operation, Bailey told DPS investigators that "most of Mackiewicz's phone calls and reports went to the sheriff." This is consistent with the testimony of several other witnesses during the contempt trial. 

In the end, Arpaio's Seattle snipe hunt produced nothing but bunk. The sheriff's Seattle adventure cost taxpayers $270,000 that we know about, and likely a lot more. In the past, sources have indicated that the final price tag might be as much as $1 million. The MCSO has yet to give a full accounting of the spending for this operation.

Will anyone care about all of this corruption if Arpaio is booted from office on November 8? Seems doubtful. People will move on, and Arpaio will fade from memory.

But if Arpaio somehow earns a reprieve from Maricopa County voters, residents of the fourth-most-populous county in the United States will still have a sheriff who thinks the public's money is no object when it comes to his pet projects, and that deputies doing his bidding can drink up a storm while on duty.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons