Sheriff Arpaio Won't Investigate Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla for Alleged Threat to Reporter

Usually, Arpaio loves a good probe.

The list of questionable investigations the five-term sheriff has launched against his political foes includes county Supervisors, judges, bureaucrats, lawyers, journalists and political activists. (See "Enemies List,", "Joe Knew," for starters.)

But he won't investigate his deputy chief's alleged threat against a reporter and her young child.

As we reported back in May, an internal investigation of corruption in Arpaio's command staff detailed Arizona Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez's complaint about  disgraced former Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott and one of his sidekicks, Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla.

The findings of the internal investigation spurred Arpaio to fire Hendershott in May for a slew of bad behavior and potential crimes. Deputy Chief Larry Black was also fired. Arpaio later allowed both men to resign before their termination dates.

Chagolla, despite being described by Allen to investigators as "clearly under the thumb and influence of ... Hendershott," continues to serve as one of Arpaio's top men.

The saga of the alleged threat is one of the many interesting side-stories to come out of the months-long investigation of the sheriff's office. But it's an important one, in part because it helps explain the current mindset of Arpaio, whose role in the scandals of his command staff was whitewashed by the investigation, conducted by his political ally, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

In a nutshell, Wingett Sanchez says she was told by Hendershott and Chagolla that she would be arrested for not cooperating with them in an investigation of county officials. Most disturbingly, she says she was told several times that her baby would be taken away by Child Protective Services.

Yet Wingett Sanchez had committed no crime. Even MCSO's communications director, Lisa Allen, told the Babeu-report investigators that it appeared the lawmen were targeting her without good cause.

What had Wingett Sanchez done? Her job. Told by Hendershott that county officials were under investigation for allegedly wasting taxpayer money to sweep for listening devices, Wingett Sanchez called the county for comment for an article she would later write.

In Hendershott's twisted world, that constituted a possible crime of aiding the officials. From our earlier article:

...Wingett complained to Lisa Allen that he and Chagolla repeatedly had threatened to arrest her over the incident.

"Next week, Yvonne, you're going to be arrested ... and your child is going to end up with Child Protective Services," they said, Wingett Sanchez told Allen, adding that she could barely speak about it without getting "emotional."

The threats to Wingett Sanchez came in person and, at least once, by telephone, Allen reported.

We asked Arpaio in May whether he intended to investigate Chagolla for the alleged threat. He wouldn't answer the question, saying cryptically that "it's not over," in a seeming reference to the shake-up of his command staff over the sustained allegations of unethical behavior uncovered by the internal investigation.

At the time, we took that to mean he was considering an investigation of what is obviously a serious allegation.

We decided to check back on this one, and it turns out that Arpaio is letting Chagolla skate without an investigation.

MCSO spokesman Sergeant Jesse Spurgin, in response to our request for info yesterday about Chagolla, replied:

An investigation was not conducted on Chief Chagolla for this alleged incident. I was told that Yvonne Wingett was approached by Sheriff's investigators and chose not to speak with them, therefore no further action was taken.

Wingett Sanchez's decision not to talk is not really an excuse for failing to perform an investigation, however.

When former East Valley Tribune reporter Ryan Gabrielson declined to cooperate with an investigation of a deputy for alleged racial profiling, Arpaio's office went ahead anyway. It wasn't a good investigation, but it was an investigation.

Chagolla, meanwhile, is still around to help Arpaio conduct the serious business of the sheriff's office -- like request an investigation into whether a County Supervisor improperly used government resources to fill a flat tire with air.

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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.