Maricopa County Sheriff's Office captain: "My staff and I were humiliated!"

By Sarah Fenske

Waah, waah, waah!

That's the sound of Maricopa County Sheriff's Captain James Miller, whining in an internal memo about the Phoenix Police Department's refusal to come to the MCSO's aid when it tried to keep a New Times reporter from (gasp!) looking at public records.

Captain James Miller (background) blowing a gasket over a New Times reporter's insisting on looking at public records deputies were scanning.

As we first reported in May, the sheriff's office filed a public records request with the city of Phoenix, demanding to see six months of email from top city officials, including Police Chief Jack Harris and Mayor Phil Gordon. Ostensibly, the sheriff needed the information to investigate his own deputies for racial profiling.

Riiight... and I'm sure the mayor's forceful denunciation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio a few weeks before had nothing to do with the invasive request.

Regardless, the city gathered the documents requested--9,343 pages. But when the sheriff's officers came to scan the docs, thereby avoiding a $1,775 bill for photocopies, my colleague Ray Stern was there, too.

And as Ray wrote on this blog Wednesday, the two officers scanning the records were so freaked out by his presence that they summoned no fewer than four guys for backup. Captain Miller also taunted Ray, daring him to "take these papers from my hand."

Now, thanks to a brave soul who leaked us a very funny internal memo, we've got the Sheriff's Office's version of the story.

In the five-page diatribe to his boss, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, MCSO Captain Miller paints his officers as victims of a vast center-wing conspiracy. You can read the whole hilarious memo here, but for those of you with a life, here's the condensed version:

* Stern demanded to look at the boxes of public records that deputies were scanning.

* Stern noted that the Phoenix city attorney had told him that the records were public, and that he had a legal right to see them.

* When City Attorney Gary Verburg arrived, Miller contends, "there was a very warm greeting between" him and Stern, "with Stern calling the attorney by his first name."

* Verburg did, in fact, back up Stern, therefore showing, Miller claims, that he had "conspired in some way to partner with Stern."

* Phoenix police did not back up the MCSO's attempt to keep Stern from seeing the records because the documents were public.

Now, in any normal universe, this would the sign of a sensible police department diffusing a really stupid MCSO-made mess. But Captain Miller had a different conclusion:

"The [Phoenix police] Commander told me that I shouldn't arrest Stern because the documents were public record. I was flabbergasted at his response and became animated with him."

Miller later writes, "I was further infuriated that any member of the Phoenix Police Department would fail to come to the aid of another law enforcement officer while perfoming his duties and then dare to threaten interference with a potential arrest if one was needed to maintain the order that they refused to help keep."

Phoenix police failed to aid the poor sheriff's deputies in their time of need!

Waah, waah, waah!

The whole memo is so funny that I don't even know where to begin. I mean, really, how dare the Phoenix police refuse to act as the sheriff's toadies? How dare they refuse to insist that public records should be kept, well, private?

But I do have to poke a whole in the whole vast conspiracy thing.

Ray Stern tells me that he met Verburg for the first time just 30 minutes or so before the "warm greeting" that sent Miller over the edge. In fact, Stern and Verburg met for the first time at the clerk's office, in front of Miller's own officers, when Verburg was summoned to sort out the escalating tension between the MCSO and Stern. (Miller arrived minutes later.)

It was a far cry from the proverbial smoke-filled room--and a pretty good sign that Miller didn't even bother to consult with his own colleagues before hatching his conspiracy theory and typing up his cover-your-ass memo.

The upshot is that, when the MCSO returned to City Hall to scan more records Thursday morning, they brought seven officers--five of whom formed a protective shield around the two deputies doing the scanning. Didn't want any notebook-wielding reporter to frighten the two beefy county cops.

And we can expect this flagrant waste of taxpayer money to continue.

As Captain Miller writes at the end of his report, "My staff and I were humiliated and subjected to unnecessary badgering from New Times reporter Stern for simply doing our job...I have instructed my staff that any time they conduct business at the City of Phoenix building, they are to expect resistance and animosity. Since I am unwilling to subject my staff to any further humiliation, they will always take with them adequate staff and equipment to self-sustain the operation at hand. We will not rely on the Phoenix Police Department as a resource or back up."

Says the mayor's spokesman, Scott Phelps, "How many sworn officers do they think they need to protect themselves against a single, 150-pound journalist?" Tee hee. And while I have to take issue with one detail (there's no way Ray Stern weighs more than 140!), I think Phelps has a really good point.

Captain Miller doesn't want his staff subjected to any further humiliation? Thanks to his crybaby memo, it's already way too late.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske

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