Voters have a golden opportunity to throw 72-year-old Sheriff Joe Arpaio out of office in the September 7 Republican primary -- an election that Independents can participate in simply by requesting a Republican ballot.
This is far from a meaningless primary. Outlaw Joe is much more vulnerable in the primary because he has lost the support of the leadership of his own Republican party, leaving a rare opening for a challenger. Whoever wins the GOP primary will be the odds-on favorite in the November general election.
Once considered politically untouchable, Arpaio is holding on for dear life as hard-charging retired Mesa police commander Dan Saban closes in.
Saban, 48, is clearly the best man to lead the sheriff's office out of a snake pit of intrigue, senseless killings, flagrant abuse of police power, willful disregard of prisoners' constitutional rights, and astounding arrogance -- hallmarks of Joe Arpaio's three terms in office.
Saban has won an impressive array of supporters in a grassroots campaign that is suddenly raising serious campaign money in the wake of Senator John McCain's hearty endorsement. Saban took in $37,000 from June 1 through August 18, while Outlaw Joe collected $1,800.
But Arpaio already had a fat war chest that allowed him to spend more than $140,000 in the same period. Despite his heavy outlays, Outlaw Joe saw his support among Republicans slip from 71 percent in February to 53 percent by mid-August.
The poll was conducted just after Joe's SWAT team incinerated a puppy and laughed about it. That story embarrassed the Phoenix area from coast to coast and generated close to 3,000 letters and phone calls to New Times protesting the actions of the sheriff's goon squad.
The money Saban is raising in the final weeks of the campaign is still not enough to buy the television ads Arpaio can afford, but it just might be sufficient to pull off the biggest upset in Republican politics since Evan Mecham shocked Burton Barr in the 1986 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Along with McCain, the Maricopa County Republican Executive Guidance Committee has endorsed Saban. The committee represents thousands of Republican voters, and its decision is significant because this is the first time the party's brass hasn't backed Outlaw Joe over the years.
"The people are fed up with Arpaio, and it's time for a change in leadership. Dan Saban is the most qualified to be sheriff," says Bill Norton, Republican District 22 chairman and an REGC member.
Saban has also won the endorsements of all the major police unions and fraternal organizations in Maricopa County and across the state. These include organizations that represent just Arpaio's own employees -- which says loud and clear that a large number of those who work for Joe have no respect for him. Even the powerful Professional Firefighters of Arizona is backing Saban.
Tireless campaigning by groups like Mothers Against Arpaio has gotten the word out that Outlaw Joe's policies are costing the county tens of millions of dollars in legal settlements stemming from abuse inside the jails.
Believe it or not, even the Arizona Republic has had enough of Arpaio and has endorsed Saban in the primary. This endorsement is even more notable because Arpaio's son-in-law, Phil Boas, is the deputy editor of the mainstream daily's editorial pages.
As Saban gains more and more support from those who have carefully watched Arpaio's antics over the years, the incumbent is relying on television commercials to promote his tough-guy image to the public; his third-rate John Wayne impersonation works best on the boob tube.
Speaking of third-rate impersonations of the late Duke, President Bush may have taken a lesson from Arpaio with his frequent tough-guy struts around his Texas ranch. But the president has also distanced himself from Outlaw Joe -- even though Arpaio endorsed him over McCain in 2000.
Three months ago, Arpaio bragged to me that Bush was one of his strongest backers. But when the president was here in August, it was McCain and the law enforcement officials who despise Arpaio and are supporting Saban who shared the stage with Dubya during a Republican fete at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.
Arpaio was out of town licking his wounds, one of which was from an assault by the conservative wing of the state Republican party that has branded him a traitor for supporting Democrat Janet Napolitano in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
With this avalanche of bad news cascading down on him, it's not surprising that Arpaio is terrified to debate Saban. Somebody might ask him why everybody with half a brain hates him. Plus, the much younger, smarter, quicker Saban --who is determined to restore the sheriff's office to respectability -- would make Arpaio look like the dumb-ass he is before every audience.
Outlaw Joe has ducked Saban all over town, culminating recently with his refusal to appear on KAET-TV Channel 8 with Saban and mild-mannered host Michael Grant.
"He won't meet me and debate," Saban tells me. "He knows I will blow him off the stage. It's easier for him to use negative television attacks."
Arpaio's propaganda minister, Lisa Allen MacPherson, claims Outlaw Joe is just too busy being sheriff to campaign.
The parade-loving Arpaio has seldom missed the opportunity to mingle with voters since he was first elected in 1992. His daily calendar reveals that his overwhelming priority is promoting himself.
Saban says he is worried that Outlaw Joe will unleash a nasty dirty trick down the campaign stretch.
Outlaw Joe has already executed one major smear against his opponent. He dispatched his "threat assessment squad" to try to destroy Saban's campaign last spring on a spurious charge brought by Saban's former foster mother. The plan backfired because everybody -- except one hapless TV reporter (who was later fired because he had contributed to Joe's campaign and then done the Saban hit piece) -- saw through what Arpaio was trying to pull.
"I fear every time I leave home that he is going to break in and put a pound of marijuana in my house," Saban says. "This guy is desperate."
Saban presses on with a relentless campaign schedule. He is talking to every civic and political group that will listen.
Saban promises to reform the reckless department that Arpaio has molded. But perhaps his most important initiative, and one that McCain emphasized in his endorsement, is that the challenger vows to carefully coordinate sheriff's office operations with other police agencies in the Valley -- an extremely important consideration in the post-9/11 era. That's something Arpaio has steadfastly refused to do, his officers bursting into other police jurisdictions without a word whenever they feel like it.
"The support I've received underscores the importance of this race and what it means for improving public safety in Maricopa County," Saban says.
Indeed, these are dangerous times.
And I don't mean from terrorists from afar.
As this newspaper has documented for nearly a dozen years, one of the most dangerous threats to the welfare and safety of the average citizen in Maricopa County comes from Outlaw Joe and his storm troopers.
Citizens are far more likely to be stun-gunned, strapped into a restraint chair and suffocated, beaten into a coma with tent stakes, have their property seized and destroyed without compensation and have loved ones -- including pets -- killed without a hint of remorse from Arpaio's brown shirts.
Renegade deputies emulating their deranged boss pose a far more immediate threat to health and welfare than the plots of Osama bin Laden and his band of lunatics.
The bottom line is, Arpaio has proven himself incapable of balancing our security and our constitutional rights. He's never embraced the basic American principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Outlaw Joe believes that anyone arrested must be guilty of something, and therefore he is eager to inflict as much punishment as possible -- the Constitution be damned.
If you happen to die before you're even charged with a crime, too bad.
Arpaio has no problem withholding evidence in civil cases filed against his office in the wake of beatings and killings in his jail. He isn't concerned about violating state campaign finance laws by accepting illegal donations.
He sees no legal or ethical issue with his office providing cushy space in a supposedly closed Mesa detention center to the wealthy who can provide him benefits, including campaign contributions. This sweetheart arrangement protects the rich and powerful from having to serve time in Arpaio's dungeons like Tent City.
Arpaio routinely violates the state's public records law to prevent you from knowing what's really going on inside his notorious jails, where detailed reports about deaths and riots are illegally withheld from public inspection.
Even more worrisome is his refusal to release police reports related to the increasingly dangerous and chaotic operations by his SWAT team that has been known to destroy private property and simply walk away.
Arpaio continues to refuse to release public records related to the July 23 assault in Ahwatukee that netted a measly misdemeanor arrest and left behind a burned-up house, a smashed car and the incinerated dog whose body was left to rot in the rubble for five days.
The Ahwatukee incident was followed by another SWAT team raid in August on a small Wickenburg motel that terrified guests and wrecked a room. So far, the owner of the motel has had to absorb all the costs of the SWAT raid.
"They just broke everything and they departed," Westerner Motel owner Kamal C. Solanki tells me. "It's just not right."
My requests to MCSO public information officer Paul Chagolla for reports related to the Wickenburg attack have been ignored.
Looming over the near horizon is a massive problem for the sheriff's office. Taxpayers have paid for several expensive new jails in downtown Phoenix and at the Durango complex. These fancy new lockups are nearing completion, but Arpaio has been unable to hire the detention officers needed to operate the facilities.
Outlaw Joe needs to hire 1,000 new guards to staff these jails set to open later this fall. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $500 million for the facilities that can't be used safely because few qualified people want to work for a nut case like Arpaio.
What is dreadfully clear is that Arpaio has ruined the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
And at the same time he's become a real-estate-rich man.
You might wonder how he has managed to accumulate more than $2 million worth of property during his tenure as sheriff. I certainly have.
When I started investigating his real estate ventures, I was surprised to see that nearly all of his property records were sealed at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office. There is no way to determine who he bought his holdings from, how much cash he put down, if there are any liens on the property, and whether he paid fair market value.
The limited records I did find reveal that Outlaw Joe has sunk more than $800,000 in cash into three real estate investments in the last few years. Not bad for a guy making $72,000 a year plus a federal pension.
What happened was, Outlaw Joe got his commercial real estate records sealed through a provision in the law that allows peace officers to keep their personal address and telephone number secret. The law is intended to protect cops from stalkers.
But Arpaio has gone far beyond sealing the address of his private residence from public scrutiny. He has extended this exemption to all his commercial real estate holdings. I've asked Arpaio to provide me copies of all his property records, but he has refused.
In July, New Times asked Maricopa County Superior Court presiding Judge Colin Campbell to unseal the records, while keeping secret personal information. (The address of his personal residence is on public documents all over the place, by the way, so why is he hiding the locations of commercial property he owns?)
Campbell rejected our motion on August 17, clearing the way for Arpaio to continue to expand his commercial real estate without public scrutiny.
This is clearly a dangerous precedent and opens the door for corruption. Who is going to know whether Outlaw Joe is receiving property in exchange for favors?
We already know that Arpaio proffers upscale jail space for those who can provide financial benefits to his political campaign.
And we know that his campaign routinely accepts illegal contributions.
I only have space enough here to skim the surface of the skulduggery that Arpaio has spawned over his 12 years in office. Over time, something that prosecutors can't ignore is bound to ooze up.
But rather than wait for a drawn-out legal battle to dislodge Outlaw Joe from office, the surest way to end his reign of terror as Maricopa County Sheriff is to kick him to the curb on September 7.
It's up to you.
This just in: Outlaw Joe's so obsessed with keeping his jails jammed that he'll dispatch deputies to nearby prisons to arrest already-incarcerated inmates and toss them in Maricopa County's overcrowded lockups.
That's what happened last weekend to former Meat Puppets bassist Cris Kirkwood.
Kirkwood, 43, was sentenced August 2 to 21 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. The charge stemmed from a bizarre incident last December 26 when Kirkwood got into an altercation with a security guard at the downtown Phoenix post office.
At one point, Kirkwood struck the security officer in the head. Moments later, the guard shot Kirkwood in the back, seriously wounding the local rock star.
His girlfriend, musician Ruth Wilson, says Kirkwood is partially paralyzed, can barely stand up and needs a wheelchair.
But Kirkwood's disability didn't matter to Outlaw Joe's deputies, who appeared at the federal detention facility in Florence about 2 a.m. Friday, August 27, and arrested Kirkwood for violating the probation he had received after an earlier drug conviction.
Rather than simply transporting Kirkwood to a court appearance to deal with the probation issue, Arpaio's goobers tossed the handicapped musician into the notorious "horseshoe" inside Madison Street Jail -- where he was forced to stand with scores of other detainees jammed into the holding cell over the weekend.
Wilson says she repeatedly called the jail and begged them to give Kirkwood a wheelchair. They hung up on her.
Kirkwood remains in Arpaio's pen pending his September 3 probation-revocation hearing.
Wilson says she's planning a free all-ages concert over Labor Day weekend to encourage voters to back Dan Saban in the September 7 primary. For the time and location, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mail email@example.com, or call 602-229-8445.
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