Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Circus Comes to Buckeye: Assault Rifles, Body Armor, Ski Masks and Traffic Stops

"Every life is precious," Joe kept saying of murder victims. Who is he tryin' to kid?

The citizens of Buckeye and Avondale can rest easy tonight knowing that sheriff's deputies with assault rifles, body armor, and ski masks are busy pulling over old ladies and Hispanics with expired tags. This was all part of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's latest "crime suppression and human smuggling operation." Or in other words, his most recent dragnet for undocumented Hispanics.

OK, maybe not all of MCSO's finest were outfitted in such a manner, but many of them were. And yes, they were pulling people for minor traffic violations all up and down the MC 85, from Avondale to Buckeye, and back again. For this, the Sheriff reportedly had 200 deputies and posse members at work.

Word is this guy's auditioning for a spot on Reno 911...(Photo courtesy of Dennis Gilman.)

Indeed, at Sheriff Joe's command center, set up in the dusty armpit of I-10 and Miller Road, I counted scores of marked and unmarked MCSO vehicles, and several huge mobile vans for processing. It was massive show of force. But by the end of the evening, Joe's goon patrol had only nabbed eight persons, four of them suspected of being in the country illegally.

Talk about overkill. Reminds me of that Monty Python skit where two hunters go after a mosquito in the Australian outback with a bazooka. 

Joe justified the sweep citing the area's well-earned reputation as a dumping ground for bodies. The MCSO's handout at the big Arpaio press conference stated that, "Since 2002, in this area, the Sheriff's Office has investigated homicides of approximately 90 people...Investigators believe 38 of these deaths involve Mexican Nationals."

Activist Margarito Blancas let's you know the real deal.

But during the presser, Arpaio had no idea how many of these cases, some of them as old as seven years, had been cleared. Instead, he blamed the press for not covering these various body dumpings. And he kvetched about the lack of media attention a burning body got a few weeks ago.    

Thing is, The West Valley View, a persistent critic of the sheriff, regularly blasts Joe for not doing his job in the newspaper's part of the Valley. In the WVV's 2008 endorsement of Dan Saban over Arpaio, the paper really let Joe have it on his inaction regarding all those roadside corpses.

"Arpaio isn't good at solving crimes," noted the unsigned editorial. "Since 2005 more than a dozen bodies of homicide victims have turned up in the West Valley in Arpaio's jurisdiction. He's been too busy rounding up tree trimmers to go after the hardened criminals responsible for those murders. As a result, the people who depend on him for their police protection are at great risk."

But here was Arpaio again, wasting an enormous amount of county resources to dog the sort of traffic violators that the DPS and the police departments of Buckeye and Avondale can handle just fine on their own. Asked about his ass-backwards approach to law enforcement, Nickel Bag Joe explained that traffic stops are where it's at in criminology.

"Maybe one of the violators might be the killers," grumbled Joe. "We might find some guns in there. We may find some dead bodies. Most of your crimes that are solved in the United States are through traffic stops."

Sure they are, Joe. Who needs detective work anyway? Let's just get rid of all the homicide investigators, coroners and highly trained CSI folk, and pour all our moolah into traffic enforcement.

Protester Sandra Castro (left) gives Arpaio the bullhorn treatment.

I asked Joe a lot of smart-ass questions during his press conference, and he gave me quite a few ludicrous answers in response. I'm going to save most of these for comic relief in next week's Bird column. But here are a couple to tease you with. I wondered aloud why Joe was wasting time and energy promoting his reality TV show on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, if he had all these murders to solve.

"The New Times wants to know why I went to the Conan O'Brien show," he told the assembled reporters. "I will tell you one thing [turning to me], thank you for all the help with you having your people calling New York to try to boycott me appearing on the show...The protesters seem to be following me around every day, thanks to the New Times. There were a few protesters in New York, which, by the way, they [the producers?] paid for everything. I didn't pay a penny."

Uh, okay, Joe. But that doesn't exactly explain why you've been spending all your time as sheriff hamming it up and playing at being a celeb instead of doing the tough job of police work. But I reckon when I get to be 76, not all my answers will make sense either. 

Joe also kept saying that, "Every life is precious," in regard to the dumped bodies of Mexican nationals. When I asked him if the lives of those who've died in his jails are equally precious, he had no response.

Following the Joe show, I rode with my bud Dennis Gilman, who was following MCSO cars for CopWatch. Mostly, people were getting pulled for expired tags, including this poor, little old lady (who happened to be Anglo). The MCSO impounded her car, and then left her shivering in the cold, waiting for a ride.

When Gilman and I and another passenger came up on the patrol car with the old lady in the back seat, the deputy in the driver's seat pulled his ski-mask over his head, and ordered us away from the scene, telling us he was involved in an undercover operation.

We left. Later, when we saw the old lady waiting for a ride at a Circle K, she said she initially thought the deputy was going to arrest her, as he ordered her out of the car, and wouldn't let her sit in it. She told us that he admitted to his partner after we had left the scene that he had just said that stuff about being undercover so we wouldn't take his picture. (Why did he care, his face was covered with a mask?) However, Gilman's camera was running as we complied with the deputy's order. A screenshot of the goofy, ski-masked deputy is above.

Kudos to Gilman for getting the money shot du jour. You can check out more of Dennis Gilman's work at his YouTube channel, HumanLeague002.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons