On Friday, July 30, in an act of classic retaliation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza was kidnapped by a pack of armed thugs in the employ of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
That the men who took Reza into custody were peace officers only makes their abduction of the 58-year-old longtime Arpaio critic that much more egregious. Calling it an "arrest" gives the incident a legitimacy it does not deserve.
Reza, who had been collared the day before during an act of civil disobedience at the Fourth Avenue Jail, had been watching a demonstration taking place at the 35th Avenue entrance to an MCSO facility near Lower Buckeye Road. That's where Arpaio had set up a command post for his most recent Hispanic-hunting dragnet.
In a bold move of defiance, 11 activists spontaneously decided to block the driveway leading in and out of Arpaio's headquarters. MCSO vehicles were prevented from exiting, albeit not for long. And the 11 activists were arrested.
Even the MCSO's "probable cause" statement for Reza's abduction noted that Reza, of the group Puente, was across the four-lane avenue, nowhere near the action.
But that was not far enough away to keep the MCSO from ginning up an excuse to put Reza in cuffs. Sheriff's Office goons blocked traffic, walked across the street, took custody of Reza, and hustled him back to the command post, a political prisoner of the sheriff.
The entire incident was captured on video by local media and by members of Puente. One of the deputies involved had a hand on his gun throughout the episode. The scene resembled something you might have seen in Argentina when a military junta ruled that country and dissidents regularly "disappeared."
Reza was placed in the back of a van, where he was kept for several hours before being transported to Fourth Avenue Jail. At one point, the MCSO opened up the van to display Reza to reporters and photographers, as if he were a just-captured prisoner of war.
"If they can do this to me," he told journalists before refusing interviews, "what do you expect they can do to anybody else?"
At Fourth Avenue, Reza was forced to don stripes and placed in solitary confinement. As with his detention the night before, he was not allowed a phone call — nor was he read his Miranda rights — he told me afterward.
About 150 Reza supporters held a raucous all-night vigil outside the main entrance to the jail. A sound system was set up, blasting everything from cumbia to rock en español as demonstrators chanted and danced, sometimes in the pouring rain.
MCSO detention officers watched the improbable revelry from the roof of the building and from a side entrance. But they did nothing, allowing the dancers to turn the street into an impromptu block party.
When I asked one officer on a smoke break to explain the MCSO's hands-off approach to the gathering, he simply shrugged.
"It's a free country," he said.
I suspect their nonchalance had more to do with a lack of manpower to clear the street. Following Arpaio's sweep, his SWAT team members were probably tucked into bed, chasing illegal dishwashers in their dreams.
Reza's initial appearance before night court Commissioner Julia Lopez occurred about 3:30 a.m. At that point, the county prosecutor made a startling admission concerning the MCSO's probable-cause statement, which alleged that Reza had violated the terms of his release the night before.
Looking at a statement from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, he said, "I did not see that this rose to the level of probable cause."
Lopez agreed, telling the deputy county attorney, "I do not have enough information to find probable cause in this matter, sir."
She declined a request from Reza's attorney, Robert Pastor, to dismiss the bogus charge of "interfering with a judicial proceeding," which covers ignoring a court order.
All the same, she cut Reza loose sans bond and set an August 18 court date.
Reza was released just after sunrise to the elation of the weary crowd outside Fourth Avenue. He explained that, from his vantage point, MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands, Arpaio's longtime henchman and a man who would have felt right at home in the old Soviet KGB, was in charge of his arrest.
In the probable-cause statement itself, which you can read on my Feathered Bastard blog, the MCSO contends that Reza violated the terms of his release by coming in contact with one of the officers involved in his July 29 arrest, notoriously unprofessional MCSO SWAT team Captain David Letourneau.
But that lame excuse is belied by the probable-cause statement's observation that Reza was across the street from any MCSO officers. The MCSO initiated contact with Reza, not the other way around.