Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Victim Scores $30K for False Arrest

As Sheriff Joe Arpaio tosses cots in Tent City with Steven Seagal, a woman in Guadalupe, Arizona is looking forward to a check cut by the county for $30,000. This, due to her false arrest and imprisonment at the hands of Sheriff Joe's boys in beige.

You may recall the name Elaine Sanchez from a March 2009 feature by Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey, "Are Your Papers in Order?" That piece told the story of the Sanchez family, and how they'd been targeted for harassment by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which provides police services to the little town of Guadalupe.

The article also kicked off a series documenting incidents of racial profiling in Maricopa County, telling the stories of those who had been profiled.

Lacey lays out the details of Sanchez's 2008 run-in with MCSO deputies, thus:

Tracked for nearly a mile by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies last May, when the Dodge still ran, Elaine became alarmed, and then terrified, as the lawmen followed closely without ever turning on their lights. Her anxiety surpassed anything associated with an ordinary ticket; her family had already exchanged tales about this sort of enforcement.

Elaine drove the van into her backyard. After banging on the back door and screaming for her own mother, she was wrestled to the ground by the sheriff's men. Sanchez's boys emerged from their home to find their mother flat in the dirt with a deputy's knee in her back as she was roughly handcuffed.

The light over her license plate was out.

Sheriff's deputies actually made a U-turn to follow her. That is, before they could even see her back license plate. Sanchez was not cited for the dead license plate light, though. Instead, she was hit with a disorderly conduct charge. She was processed at the Guadalupe substation and subsequently released.

The charge? It was dismissed, of course. MCSO deputies had arrested her, and held her prisoner without probable cause. Not to mention roughing her up in the process.

Phoenix attorney Danny Ortega took up the case and filed a notice of claim with the county for $135,000, citing false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, gross negligence and violations of federal law and the Arizona Constitution. 

In 2009, Ortega brought suit in federal court against the county, Joe Arpaio, the sheriff's office, and the deputies involved. On March 2 of this year, the county settled for $30,000.

"I was glad we were able to achieve a settlement," Ortega told me. "It shows there are consequences for police misconduct."

Not that such settlements stop the MCSO's bullying of brown folk, which is infamous in Guadalupe and elsewhere. I can't help but recall the infamous April 2008 sweep of Guadalupe, where black and gold MCSO vehicles were everywhere, hunting "illegals" in a town where almost everyone's family has lived there for generations.

The MCSO even went so far as to menace a confirmation ceremony for the town's children, scaring away some who feared the sheriff's wrath.

The us-them mentality continues to this day, though there are some augurs of change. Elaine Sanchez's brother Andrew, is a community activist who has followed MCSO vehicles to videotape their activities. He's currently seeking a seat on the Guadalupe town council. An initial "primary" election was held this Tuesday.

Though he was one of three persons vying for three open seats, none of the candidates won a seat outright this round because none of them garnered the 50-plus percent required. But there's another election scheduled, and Andrew Sanchez told me he's not giving up.

The idea that Andrew, a man who has consistently opposed Arpaio's iron rule in Guadalupe and has suffered retribution as a result, may one day sit on the town council, is an exciting prospect.

It's something to look forward to, almost as much as his sister Elaine getting to cash her $30,000 check.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons