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The showdown started in high June. Facing off are the top guns of Maricopa County's two crime-fighting agencies. But instead of six-shooters, County Attorney Rick Romley and Sheriff Joe Arpaio loaded their word processors and fired off nasty memos about the other to the county Board of Supervisors.

The latest brawl between the two is over Romley's decision to decorate his prosecutors and investigators with shiny new badges identifying them as "police."

Indeed, last month, each qualified Romley minion received his or her new badges -- one for the wallet, one for all to see -- during unpublicized ceremonies at Romley's offices.

The badges, by the way, look similar to those worn by Phoenix police detectives. They say, "Maricopa County Attorney--POLICE."

Big deal? Yeah, according to Arpaio's acting chief deputy David Henderschott. On June 19, Henderschott sent a memo to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairwoman Jan Brewer "to bring to the Board of Supervisors and County Management's attention an ongoing situation that has the potential for significant economic impact and severe legal ramifications to Maricopa County."

Recently, Henderschott continued, Arpaioites noticed the prosecutors/investigators "displaying badges which state they are Maricopa County Police. There is no legal authority that we are aware of that authorizes a Maricopa County Police Force. We are unaware of any other State statue [sic] that would authorize the expenditure of County funds for a separate police/investigative force. The investigative and police powers for Maricopa County are vested in the Maricopa County Sheriff and his deputies to Arizona Revised Statutes. Section 11-441."

Turf fight!
Romley responded by memo on June 25:
"I have received a copy of a 'bizarre and disturbing' memorandum sent to the Board of Supervisors by the Sheriff's Office," Romley harrumphed. ". . . If the Sheriff's Office had contacted County Counsel [Romley subordinates], it could have avoided another embarrassment."

Another embarrassment? "Bizarre and disturbing"?
These boys -- Romley and Arpaio -- don't like each other, huh?
Romley noted -- and he's correct -- that Arizona law allows his investigators the same rights and powers of cops (after they complete rigorous qualifying requirements):

"Prosecutors throughout this nation have historically had investigators/peace officers within their offices for many good reasons, perhaps the most obvious of which is to provide a control mechanism to investigate other law enforcement agencies when allegations are made of criminal wrongdoing, corruption, cover-ups, etc. In fact, greater investigative power is vested with prosecutors' officers than with normal law enforcement agencies for these specific reasons. For example, prosecutors have the ability to obtain wire taps, grand jury subpoenas and convene investigative grand juries. Police and Sheriff agencies do not have this authority."

Wait a minute, though. Romley's top aide, Paul Ahler, concluded otherwise in a May 1996 letter to MCSO's Jadel Roe -- cheerfully offered up by Arpaio's people.

"As you are aware," Ahler wrote about a citizen's request for an investigation of alleged wrongdoing in Guadalupe, "the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is not an investigatory agency nor do we have the resources to direct such an investigation. . . ."

Romley spokeswoman Nicole Manger says Romley has no more to say on the subject than what's in his memo. (Sheriff's officials estimate the cost of the new badges at about $13,000.)

MCSO government relations director -- yup, that's his title -- Jack MacIntyre does want to add something.

"I think that there is a long tradition in American government that the prosecutor function and the police function be separate and they stay that way," says MacIntyre -- who, incidentally, was a deputy county attorney under Romley. "That's a greater protection for the public, for the citizens."

He adds, "I know of no incident in the past where his [Romley's] investigators were denied access to a crime scene or anything."

But doesn't the law Romley cited give his investigators full-cop status?
"I think that was strictly to get them under the Arizona peace officers retirement system," MacIntyre says.

Whatever the statute's intent, lawmakers certainly couldn't have expected it to come to this.

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