Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio vs. Nightline's Martin Bashir: The Good and the Not So Great

As I've been on deadline the last couple of days, I haven't been able to comment on Nightline's recent, two-pronged report on Sheriff Joe, the second part of which I enjoyed immensely. That segment dealt mostly with Arpaio's abuses in the jails and made specific reference the 1996 death of inmate Scott Norberg, to the video of his assault by MCSO detention officers, Norberg's missing crushed larynx, and the $8.25 million settlement that resulted.

Norberg is never mentioned by name. But it's obvious that's the case Nightline talking head Martin Bashir is referencing as he and Joe trade verbal blows.

"There was a video of 14 guards beating and shocking him [Norberg]," states Bashir. "Are you proud of that?"

"No I'm not proud of losing anyone in the jail --" replies Arpaio.

"Are you proud of the behavior of those guards?" asks Bashir.

"My officers did the right thing," Joe responds. "They had no criminal liability."

"Where is the crushed larynx of the dead man?" presses Bashir.

"I have no idea," says Joe, squirming in his seat.

Bashir then dips into the 2003 prostitution sting debacle, in which sheriff's deputies and posse members engaged in sexual shenanigans with the alleged hookers they later busted. Then County Attorney Rick Romley (remember when we had a C.A. we could respect?) refused to prosecute the busts because MCSO operatives "deviated from standard investigative practices."

Arpaio strains to explain himself, and Bashir can hardly contain his own laughter.

"They were naked because I allowed them to take their clothes off to develop the cases," claims Joe. "That's not unusual in this country."

The reference to "this country" is an apparent dig at Bashir's very proper British accent. You can almost read Arpaio's mind as he's likely thinking, "Just who the hell does this limey so-and-so think he is?"

The sheriff finally 'fesses that one of the alleged prostitutes "accidentally put her hand on one of our officers."

"Accidentally?" wonders Bashir, who then goes on to observe that Arpaio'd just admitted to at least one sexual contact between his --ahem-- investigators and some ladies of the evening.

I also love the exchange where Bashir suggests that the MCSO fish rots from the head down.

"Doesn't your brutal regime lead to brutality by your staff?" he inquires, pointedly. 

Joe denies having a brutal regime, maintaining at one point that the MCSO is a "professional organization."

Yet, as delicious as Bashir's interrogation was in the second half, the first half dealing with illegal immigration was somewhat flat, other than the fact Bashir was able to coax some bigoted Archie Bunker-like statements out of Arpaio, who repeated the nativist canard that Mexican immigrants bring disease with them into the country.

Bashir does a ride along with Arpaio, as the MCSO nabs a vanload of suspected undocumented persons, which should do nothing but have the pro-Joe folks screaming, "Hell, yeah." I think it would have helped to actually interview some victims of racial profiling, for instance, Julio Mora. He's the Avondale resident and American citizen who along with his legal resident dad was cuffed for three hours during an MCSO raid on a landscaping firm. It's just one of many cases Nightline could have investigated.

Bashir did needle Arpaio on not giving pedophiles the same law enforcement attention as illegal aliens. Then at the end of the second segment, he concludes with a return to the subject of immigration and has Joe conceding that his own home in Fountain Hills was likely built with illegal immigrant labor.

Still, I felt that Bashir barely cracked the eggshell on the issue. Nor did he make the observation that Arpaio retains 287(g) street authority in the very jails that are portrayed as gulags in the Nightline report. 

All the same, you don't always get everything you want in one neat little bundle when it comes to these things. 

Plus, you've gotta admit, Bashir's ribbing of Arpaio about his weight as they're discussing the 2,500 calories per day his inmates receive, is priceless.

"How many people are on 2,500 calories?" blusters Joe. "I'm not even on it."

"You're not?" asks Bashir in disbelief. "You must be on more than 2,500 calories. You must be."

"No," says Joe, glancing at his protruding paunch. "Why?"

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