Phil Gordon: "The only 'bomb' on Broadway Wednesday was the sheriff"

Umm, not quite.

By Sarah Fenske

It was classic Maricopa County Sheriff's Office goonery on Wednesday as deputies raided a South Phoenix recycling plant, looking for illegal immigrants in a hostage situation and stumbling onto a -- gasp! -- bomb.

Naturally, the "explosive" was found just in time to make the evening news. Broadway was shut down near 35th Avenue. News choppers circled. And, of course, Sheriff Joe got his name in the news, again. He told the East Valley Tribune that it was a "bomb about 4 1/2 feet high."

Sounds scary, right? But it's only now, two days later, that it's become clear how stupid the story was from the get-go -- and how ineptly Sheriff Arpaio's cops handled it.

First, look at the alleged "bomb." Channel 3 described it as "possible military explosives, maybe even ammunition." Miltiary explosives? Ammunition? More like a single, pre-Vietnam-era relic.

Second, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon tells me that the recycling plant is in a county island, meaning the sheriff technically has jurisdiction. But the island is small, and on all four sides are the city of Phoenix. There are three schools in close proximity, a city park, and a lots of homes.

Yet no one from the sheriff's office bothered to tell the Phoenix Police Department about the operation, Gordon says. Nor did anybody from the MCSO summon the Phoenix Fire department, which should be standard procedure in any case involving potentially hazardous material.

In fact, though sheriff's deputies first showed up on the scene around 4:30 p.m., Gordon says they didn't get around to calling Phoenix police until 8 p.m. -- and that was because they needed aid from the department's bomb squad! (Naturally, the sheriff didn't bother to give the PPD credit for the assist in any of the subsequent coverage.)

So they thought the "bomb" was serious enough to talk about it on TV, and they thought the operation was important enough to shut down Broadway, thereby inconveniencing thousands of drivers. But nobody thought to tip off the local police for three and a half hours, much less call the fire department or alert the schools? Wow!

"The sheriff was risking his deputies lives if this really was a bomb," Gordon says. "There was no evacuation, no HazMat team there. He risked everybody's lives for a publicity stunt. That's how he's running his law enforcement agency."

In the past, this sort of ineptitude has had deadly consequences. (You can read my former colleague John Dougherty's tale of the Sheriff's Office causing a puppy's senseless death and practically burning down an Ahwatukee home in the process, all over a traffic warrant, here.) This time, thank God, it was nothing so serious.

Once the sheriff finally got around to calling Phoenix police, the city cops were able to determine fairly quickly that the so-called bomb was really a dud.

"The only 'bomb' on Broadway Wednesday was the sheriff," Gordon says.

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