The most visible hammer of ethnic cleansing in greater Phoenix — which has swept 50,000 Mexicans from our community — is Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Two weeks before the election, his deputies — 60 strong — executed a home invasion of Mesa's City Hall and library. Decked out in flak jackets, sidearms strapped to their legs, flanked by police dogs, and augmented by semi-automatic weapons, Arpaio's men arrested three office cleaners at 2 in the morning.
Why was such an overwhelming armed force deployed against a few people who empty trash baskets?
Who feels protected when confronted by deputies armed like Marines charging into a Fallujah firefight? Who feels served when a deputy's first question is: Are your papers in order?
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
We have come to this point because of a marriage of cynical convenience between County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
On the same day that Arpaio rousted City Hall, Thomas abused the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix because it dared to put a little money into the jailhouse accounts of immigrant inmates for cigarettes and food.
Later, Thomas would endorse the Mesa raid.
"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups," says the narrator in the opening of Law & Order. Yet here, in Maricopa County, that critical separation no longer exists.
Our chief prosecutor no longer functions as a check upon law enforcement. County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio march in lockstep. And it is not just Mexicans who are in peril. This marriage of political connivance between the prosecutor and the lawman endangers the rights of all residents.
Arpaio and Thomas fuel each other's worst instincts. The result is that the safeguards of constitutional balance are tipped toward legal mayhem.
While Arpaio has strutted with the bombast of Il Duce throughout his 16 years in office, his malevolence blossomed with Thomas' election in 2004.
Before that election, Arpaio said on the record that he would not target illegal immigrants working in this county.
But once elected, Thomas successfully sought legislation allowing him to prosecute the lowest Mexican worker as if he were a smuggling kingpin.
Arpaio saw the avalanche of publicity, spun on a dime, and went after Hispanics with grandstanding zeal, attracting the attention of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The sheriff does not target Mexicans engaged in kidnapping, drug dealing, or violence; Arpaio targets those gainfully employed.
It takes real work to find criminals. But Mexicans are easy to locate; they are at work.
If immigration brought Arpaio to Thomas, it was only the beginning of the dance.
Thomas has repeatedly used taxpayer funds to hire his former boss and political patron to defend Arpaio.
In the seemingly endless lawsuit Hart v. Hill (now Graves v. Arpaio), brought by prisoners against the conditions in the jail, Thomas hired Dennis Wilenchik to defend the sheriff.
In 2007, this newspaper revealed that four of America's largest county jails had a total of fewer than 50 inmate lawsuits in federal courts since January 2004. Yet in the same three-year period, prisoners filed 2,150 lawsuits against Arpaio. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $43 million to insure, defend, litigate and settle these complaints over the conditions and corpses that spewed from the policies of "America's toughest sheriff."
Last week, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake declared that the conditions in Arpaio's jails violated the Constitution of the United States.
In this short space, it is impossible to give a sense of all that Judge Wake, a conservative Republican, found unacceptable. But his 83-page finding is extremely detailed. Among other things, he condemned the use of psychotropic drugs to control inmates. Noting that a particular medication induces "extremely painful . . . muscle spasms . . . potentially permanent and disfiguring involuntary movements around the face," Judge Wake observed that the drug was used on both psychotic and mentally stable pre-trial detainees "without justification."
Other findings by Judge Wake appear benign unless you know the history. He ordered that Sheriff Arpaio not house mentally ill patients in cells hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This has nothing to do with prisoner comfort. New Times originally revealed that jailers closed air vents in a cell as punishment, which killed a 300-pound man with a heart condition.
The dead man was not even the original target of the jailer's homicidal discipline.
A month before Judge Wake's ruling, Arpaio was notified that his jail was losing national accreditation because of court testimony contained in a written review. Thomas is now hiding the embarrassing report, alleging it is not a public record, thereby sparing his ally further incriminating coverage before the election.
Although Wilenchik's loss in the suit will expose taxpayers to millions more in damage claims, it is only the most recent example of the Thomas, Arpaio, and Wilenchik relationship.
When the county attorney hired Wilenchik last year in a futile attempt to remove the Assistant Presiding Criminal Judge of Superior Court, Timothy Ryan, from all cases involving Thomas' office, Arpaio removed his deputies from their courthouse assignments and shut down the justice system in a one-day act of intimidation.
And let us not forget that this month is the one-year anniversary of the illegal grand jury.
Last October, Wilenchik issued illegal grand jury subpoenas seeking the identity of citizens who read New Times. Hired by Thomas to avenge a four-year-old dispute over public records between this newspaper and Sheriff Arpaio, Wilenchik sought to put this newspaper out of business.
After New Times CEO Jim Larkin and I wrote a story that revealed the illegal grand jury subpoenas, Wilenchik asked a judge to bankrupt the newspaper with fines and to arrest us.
Without waiting for the judge's ruling, Sheriff Arpaio's deputies showed up at our homes in the middle of the night, slapped us in cuffs, and took us off to jail.
Only the public's outcry forced Thomas to drop the charges, though he continued to prosecute one of our reporters caught up in the public-records battle. (That case was dismissed just weeks ago.)
Now days before the election, Thomas and Arpaio are acting in consort again, with the prosecutor defending the lawman's assault upon City Hall.
And Thomas and Arpaio have both aired television ads for the pending election so repulsive that they have been taken off the air. The sleazy spots have been illegally financed, to the tune of six figures, by a shadowy group headed by a member of the sheriff's command structure.
Voters must now divorce themselves from this bad marriage.
We urge you to vote for Tim Nelson for county attorney and Dan Saban for sheriff.
As readers of this newspaper know, we do not routinely endorse politicians. It is our belief that a news-saturated society does not benefit from journalists anointing officeholders.
But this election is about right and wrong and a climate of fear that ought not exist. We speak out to encourage you to vote.
With only nominal opposition in the general election, Sheriff Arpaio was essentially re-elected in 2004 in the Republican primary, with a mere 22 percent turnout.
Those depressed by the choices in the past must see through the temptation of cynicism.
Dan Saban and Tim Nelson are decent men with long, honorable records of service.
We do not write lightly when we say that this particular election is a matter of life and death.
Last month, New Times revealed that 11 deputies beat and suffocated Juan Mendoza Farias to death. Arrested on a DUI probation violation, Farias was going through alcohol withdrawal when Arpaio's men killed him. The sheriff has refused to release the jail video of the incident despite our public records request, saying the case is under investigation.
Arpaio says this, of course, knowing that prosecutor Thomas will not investigate the sheriff's deputies.
This stonewalling was no surprise. A lawsuit is routinely required to compel Arpaio to obey the law, and we have, once again, gone to court. But the sheriff's stubborn cover-up was cast into stark highlight this month when Channel 5 broadcast the leaked tape of yet another jail death.
The video shows a prisoner literally stomped to death, blow after concussive blow. For 19 uninterrupted minutes, Robert Cotton's life is splattered upon a cell floor, this time by another prisoner.
The sheriff announced that nothing could be done to stop this sort of violence. His men cannot be everywhere, after all.
Sixty troopers are marshaled to arrest three Mexican office cleaners at the Mesa library. But there are not enough deputies available to protect Mr. Cotton in Arpaio's own jail?
The marriage of Arpaio and Thomas dares not speak its shame.
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