Longform

Sheriff Joe buffaloes readers with bogus yarns in his book Joe's Law

It was all love from the mostly alter kocker crowd of Sheriff Joe supporters at the Barnes & Noble near Pima and Shea in Scottsdale, with Arpaio addressing the seated senior citizens before signing copies of his book Joe's Law: America's Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else That Threatens America.

The sheriff was in his element, surrounded by an adoring, lily-white audience of geezers, with TV cameras capturing his usual shuck and jive.

"How much more time we got?" wondered Arpaio toward the end of his remarks. "I could talk forever. They wanna buy the book. If I say everything, they won't need the book."

The county's top constable fielded a few softball questions from his admirers. Why doesn't he run for governor of Arizona? Does the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office confiscate drop houses?

Then a younger voice chimed in, regarding a topic you won't read about in Arpaio's book.

"Would you care to comment about Scott Norberg, who was Tasered I think 15 times, and a towel stuffed into his mouth, strapped down to a chair in your jail?" asked the tall, lanky guy. "He was murdered [there]."

Almost instantly, Arpaio morphed into an enraged beast. He recounted how Norberg had come into his jail "high on drugs," and how he had been incarcerated "many, many times" before.

"We had to subdue him," growled Joe. "And he unfortunately passed away because of a drug overdose."

Not true.

The county medical examiner ruled Norberg was asphyxiated when his chin was crushed into his chest by MCSO deputies while in Sheriff's Office custody. Writing in 1999 about an MCSO video of the killing that was instrumental in securing a then-record $8.25 million settlement for the Norberg family, New Times writer David Holthouse likened it to a snuff flick.

When the activist who raised the issue of Norberg tried to follow up, the oldsters in the crowd turned as mean as the object of their affection. They shouted, "Sit down!" and "Get out of here!" A plainclothes deputy soon escorted the young man out for the offense of asking a tough question of "America's Toughest Sheriff."

It was not the first such interruption during Arpaio's local book tour. Protesters decrying the cruelty of Joe's gulags and his continued persecution of the undocumented have dogged his every appearance. Outside bookstores, activists bearing placards calling him "Ar-payaso" (payaso means clown, in Spanish) or equating him with a Ku Klux Klan member have borne the brunt of punishing summer heat to get their points across.

At previous book-signings, despite being monitored by uniformed and undercover MCSO deputies, anti-Joe forces have inserted into his new tome fliers that detail their complaints against Maricopa County's septuagenarian sheriff. These include Arpaio's costing the county more than $43 million in lawsuit payouts over conditions in county jails and wrongful deaths, like those of Norberg, Charles Agster, and Deborah Braillard (see "Dead End," John Dickerson, December 20, 2007). The 40,000 unserved felony warrants the MCSO has failed to serve are mentioned, along with the sheriff's wasteful RICO spending, his sweeps targeting the Valley's immigrant community, and the racial profiling that occurs during these roundups.

The ghost of Norberg is particularly persistent and unyielding.

At a recent book-signing in Goodyear, a camcorder-wielding activist stood in line with other autograph-seekers and asked that Joe make his inscription out to Scott Norberg. Joe got as far as the first name before looking up with a flash of uneasiness and fear. Joe ordered bodyguards, "Will you get this guy out of here?!" and put his palm up in front of the camera.

A short video soon hit YouTube, featuring a photo of Norberg and an ominous soundtrack of Tibetan chants from the Dalai Lama. The spooky vid is the creation of anti-Arpaio agitator Dennis Gilman (though he's not the one who shot the raw footage).

Therefore, despite all the misstatements and Hoover Dam-size omissions in Arpaio's new book, the truth rises to the surface, strangling each whopper with brutal reality.

An intensely boring read for all but those who are slavishly attached to the man, Joe's Law repeats many of the myths Arpaio has manufactured about himself over the years. With the assistance of friend and writer Len Sherman, the book regurgitates such cock-and-bull stories as Arpaio's supposed run-in with Elvis, Joe's implausible role in ending the infamous French Connection, and bogus threats on Joe's life — beginning with the laughable assertion that Phoenix immigrant-rights advocate Elias Bermudez, the Minutemen, and the Mexican Mafia have a price on his head.

Indeed, though some of the book deals with immigration, a lot of it is lifted word for word from Joe's previous collaboration with Sherman, America's Toughest Sheriff: How We Can Win the War Against Crime, published in 1996. The back of the new book features John McCain's endorsement from the old book, in spite of a chapter near the end of Joe's Law that bashes McCain. (Arpaio complains that McCain has not properly curried his favor and possible endorsement for president.)

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons