Arpaio

Parade of Fools: Brian Sands Can't Distance Himself From the Bad Acts Detailed in His Book

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The book Sands self-published in August is a stunning backstab of his former boss -- not to say that Arpaio doesn't deserve it.

Though always popular with enough county voters, Arpaio, 82, has been a lightning rod for criticism in his 22 years in office. From inhumane conditions in the jail system he oversees to harassing the local Hispanic population, Arpaio enjoys a tyrannical legacy. To many conservatives, Arpaio is a tough-talking hero who targets undocumented immigrants and animal abusers. His fans have been willing to overlook corruption and the large-scale waste of public funds that have marked his tenure.

So have his top employees. That is, until the bombshell "Munnell memo" of 2010, which resulted in the firings of Hendershott and Black. And until Sands' book was released. The 177-page tome is a rambling, anecdote-filled retrospective of Sands' many years serving Arpaio. More than a hint of mean-spiritedness arises as Sands dishes on Arpaio and on the book's second-biggest target, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan.

The main criticism in the book is a familiar refrain: Arpaio has been too focused on publicity and getting re-elected, pulling the office into avoidable scandals and weakening its ability to perform its law enforcement duties.

This time, though, the accusation comes not from an alternative newspaper or a Democrat but from one of the department's former top officials.

Sands says he wouldn't call himself a whistle-blower. Indeed, his book isn't full of allegations of potential criminal misconduct or specific policy violations by his co-workers, like the damning 63-page memo written by retired Deputy Chief Frank Munnell.

Instead, it's loaded with gossip, gripes, stories of incompetence by coworkers, and insider shop talk. While covering a lot of ground and many years, Sands does a good job of focusing on Arpaio's manipulation of the media and the voting public, somewhat in the same vein as The Joe Show documentary released earlier this year and being screened through October 9 at Harkins Valley Art in Tempe and Harkins Arrowhead in Peoria. Sands' book is more than just entertainment for close observers of the Sheriff's Office -- it's an important document that helps tell the ongoing story of a popular but unethical sheriff and his sycophantic sidekicks.

The serious side is that Arpaio has wasted untold millions of dollars of taxpayer money, let down victims, allowed barbaric jail conditions to persist, targeted political enemies with bogus criminal allegations, engaged in morally misguided conspiracies, and failed to address crime effectively -- all to get re-elected by an arch-conservative voting majority. Many of the characters in the book are familiar to New Times readers: Arpaio, Sheridan, Allen, former commanders Munnell, Scott Freeman, and Hendershott. Sands expresses loathing for their public-relations games, their unprofessionalism, their inability to perform. The main reason he wrote the book, Sands says, is to let the public know just how bad top management at the Sheriff's Office has gotten, thanks to the sheriff. He says he wants the world to know that he marched for years in a parade of fools.

Yet the unfortunate spin of the book is that Sands has more of a problem with Munnell, a true whistle-blower, than Hendershott, the primary target of Munnell's whistle-blowing. This is one reason that De Facto Lawman cannot be taken entirely seriously. Sands doesn't always pound away at the best targets. The tome has many other deficiencies, too.

The cover, featuring a picture of Arpaio's head on the front of a tank-like vehicle, is amateurish. The first edition is filled with typos, missing words, bad grammar, and unclear writing. Published primarily as an e-book on amazon.com, New Times obtained one of the limited print editions. Sands since has taken the book off the market. He's editing out the errors and smoothing the writing, he says, and will put it back on the market by the end of this month.

The book also suffers because Sands clearly held back. Owing to his former position, Sands must be aware of even juicier material he could've included. But he's suspiciously reserved in his writing and in interviews. He's wary of getting dragged into lawsuits by Sheriff's Office employees, past or present.

Or into criminal investigations. Just because state and federal prosecutors have closed their investigations into abuse-of-power and campaign-finance allegations doesn't mean they might not someday reopen them.

The book has a strong, unintended irony in that Sands played a part in some of the agency's biggest problems. As the sheriff began a populist pogrom against illegal immigrants, Sands voiced opposition to using deputies as immigration officers, he claims in the book. Yet he oversaw the operations.

In one of three interviews with New Times for this article, he talks about what he understood his job to be: "Okay, this is what the sheriff wants. We'll try to make it legal and try to make it safe."

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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.