Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Tale of Deputy Self-Defense Disputed by Eyewitness

Last night CBS 5/KPHO reported that an eyewitness to a January 14 fatal shooting in Mesa by a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputy has disputed Sheriff Joe Arpaio's account of the incident.

Miguel Hernandez, a neighbor of victim Felipe Ramirez Castellanos, told KPHO that he did not see Castellanos point a weapon at deputies who had ordered him to stop his vehicle.

"The sheriff's deputies just came up, running up to him," Hernandez  said in a report by CBS 5's Sarah Buduson. "And then they told him to turn off the engine. And he just put it in park, like he was going in reverse. He put it in park ... and then they shot him three times."

You can watch video of the interview with Hernandez, here.

Arpaio held a press conference on Monday to praise his deputy's professionalism, and to make the argument that his deputy -- whom the MCSO so far refuses to name -- had no choice but to shoot Castellanos once in the hip and once in the head.

The sheriff told reporters that Castellanos, who later died of his wounds, pointed his AK-47 at deputies. Arpaio also made a big point of announcing that Castellanos was in the country illegally and that he had a record. This, all before his investigators had spoken with Hernandez.

But that press conference raised a few eyebrows. Arpaio suggested that Castellanos was another well-armed nut. You know, along the lines of Jared Loughner.

Arizona has a history of sheriffs holding press conferences to back their deputies to the hilt before all the facts are in. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and now-fired PCSO deputy Louie Puroll come to mind.

The MCSO responded to CBS 5 by claiming Hernandez couldn't see precisely what was happening from his vantage point, but he sure sounds convincing in the KPHO segment.

Was Arpaio just looking for attention from this presser? Did he want to crow about a dead "illegal"? Or did he want to get out in front of the issue, and start spinning before more info damaging to his deputy became known?

Perhaps things happened just as Arpaio says, but Hernandez's account cannot be overlooked. The man Hernandez described was no crazed lunatic, no Loughner-esque wild man.

No doubt the nativists will scream that Castellanos shouldn't have been in the country. I'm more interested in how he acquired his AK-47. With a felony record and his immigration status, could he have slipped through the FBI background check? In other words, was he a prohibited possessor? Or did he purchase the AK-47 through a gun show or a private dealer, and exploit the loophole the law allows?

But these are side issues. The main question at hand is, regardless of his record or his immigration status, was Castellanos' killing justified? Hernandez's statements call everything Arpaio's said into question. And we all know how reliable Joe is as a source of accurate information.

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

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