Joe Arpaio's Posse Vehicles May Retain Official Insignia; County Bends Over After Hail of E-Mails

You'd best not mess with the posse, partner!

Maricopa County leaders learned that Wild-West lesson this week when they were forced to rescind a demand to the Sheriff's Office that posse vehicles could no longer sport official markings.

In what appears to be another exchange of fire in the feud between county officials, the county's equipment services director fired off an October 5 e-mail to the MCSO about the posse members' use of county insignia on private vehicles. State law seems to indicate that such use could be considered a Class 2 misdemeanor. Cantu says the issue "recently" came to his attention (yeah, right) and that the Sheriff's Office should order all posse members to remove the decals.

Suddenly, the county started getting besieged with e-mails by the pissed-off posse (no doubt after being spurred on by the sheriff's office). In one sample e-mail provided by the county, posse member Bryant Quan notes his extensive, unpaid commitment to the search-and-rescue team:

Whenever called to do so, I drive hundreds of miles and do whatever is asked of me. I donate my personal vehicle for use for this role. This specialized vehicle costs over $120,000 to purchase new, and of the 30,000 miles on it to date; at least 75% of those miles were in the service of the county.

Quan asks for the support of the board, claiming that,

Removing the official insignia from our vehicles or doing anything that would distinguish the posse will only increase the liability and risk presented to us. It serves only to diminish the effectiveness of your volunteer force and reduces the police presence in the county, which can only lead to more crime.

In another sample e-mail given to New Times, Jim Goffena of Surprise expresses outrage at the insignia decision and a recent decision by the Board of Supervisors to halt payments of legal bills to the MCSO. Goffena warns the Board of Supervisors that if members don't support the sheriff in his battle against illegal immigrants, they must be "co-conspirators" in the crimes of immigrant smugglers. "I refuse to see this county turn into a Third World ghetto, brought on by childish egos that refuse to work issues out for our safety and betterment," he writes.

Influenced by such impassioned diatribes, Max Wilson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, writes in an October 13 letter, addressed "Dear Joe," that the insignia order is "hereby rescinded."

Wilson warns that the posse members could still be in violation of the law. But he adds that he'll work hand-in-hand with Arpaio to convince legislators to change the law to exempt posse members. Can you say "kowtow," class?

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He was the stand-up comedian who, in support of a ballot initiative opposed by the sheriff, walked into a Phoenix restaurant on Halloween while wearing an unbuttoned shirt with the insignia of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. For pants, he wore pink boxer shorts. According to a 2002 New Times article, sheriff's deputies wrote the guy up for a Class 1 misdemeanor -- possibly under the direction of Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, who was in the restaurant at the time.

This kind of hypocrisy makes us cynical, if not crazy.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.