December 16, 2009 | 10:13pm
What a difference a couple of days make. Less than 72 hours ago, members of the pro-immigrant community in Phoenix were kvetching to me about the lack of follow-through on the part of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. As I reported in my column this week, activists were complaining that they hadn't heard from DOJ investigators Earl Saunders, Sarah Lopez and Je Yon Jung since they were sweated by MCSO deputy chief Paul Chagolla after crashing a Sheriff Joe press conference in Surprise.
Now several sources have informed me that a DOJ team is in Phoenix this week, staying at a certain downtown hotel. According to one source, the DOJ team has met with victims of Arpaio's civil rights abuses at a local Catholic church.
I've left messages for the DOJ investigators inquiring about their stay, but they have yet to return my calls. The activists tell me that the DOJ-ers have repeatedly warned them about speaking with the press, so I won't be waiting with bated breath for the cell phone to ring. Notoriously media-shy, the DOJ-ers even eschewed making a statement following the Surprise incident, where they innocently attended an MCSO presser, no doubt believing that such events were public here in Maricopa County, as they are in most parts of the civilized world.
Boy did they misread that one.
The DOJ-ers have repeatedly cautioned anti-Joe activists and immigrant advocates that the most they'll likely do is make "suggestions" to the MCSO concerning the organization's racial profiling ways, dampening the hope that the DOJ will pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit of some kind. In response, the activists have wondered why they've been hustling, sticking their necks out, helping with the DOJ investigation, when all that might come of it will be a list of points of improvement for Arpaio. In other words, a federal cop out.
Most of the activists in town refuse to go on the record for fear of severing their ties to the DOJ. Only activist/videographer Dennis Gilman has gone public with his gripes in an open letter to DOJ operatives. Gilman explained to me that the feds sent him hard drives to fill up with encrypted video files of MCSO gendarmes in action. After he returned them, one of the DOJ-ers called him and asked him how to access the encryption software, even though the software was in use by the feds. In other words, it's not like Gilman programmed it for them, but this guy expected Gilman to walk him through it, as if Gilman was working in the DOJ's IT department.
Gilman also described how once, after doing a long telephone interview with a DOJ investigator, the same man called him again on another line, requesting to speak with him, apparently unaware that he already had.
There are other, similar stories from other activists who wish to remain anonymous. These tales don't do a lot to boost the expectations of a DOJ crackdown on Arpaio. However, the FBI has been conducting its own investigation into Arpaio's alleged criminal abuses of power. And the pressure is building on Arizona's new U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke to do something, anything to rein in Arpaio and his eager subordinate County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Whether or not he will, of course, remains an open question.