Why, The Bird's never seen Sheriff Joe Arpaio lookin' so used up and beat as he appeared at the Barnes & Noble in Surprise during a recent Saturday-afternoon book-signing for Joe's Law, which was ripped a new one by the Taloned One's stenographer the other day ("America's Meanest Sheriff Buffaloes Readers," June 26).
With bags under his eyes and an expression on his puss that could give a mule a run for its dolo, poor ol' Joe looked as if he were about to roll over and croak of exhaustion right there amidst a gaggle of adoring, blue-haired colostomy-baggers. The only thing that seemed to pep up the 76-year-old MCSO Methuselah was the arrival of this ticked-off toucan as Nickel Bag Joe was finishing his remarks.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
"Here's that guy from the New Times," Joe barked half-heartedly. "That was a very vicious article you wrote about my book-signing, slander and everything else. Keep it up."
Vicious, perhaps, but truer than anything folks will find in Joe's book, this tweeter replied. The oldsters in-house from nearby Sun City booed, shook their wrinkled fists, and ordered The Bird out! Jumpin' Geritol addicts, it was like having to take on the entire casts of The Bucket List, The Golden Girls, and Murder, She Wrote all at once.
Talk about vicious!
Makes The Bird wonder . . . Why are so many Valley oldsters so misguided and so willing to cast ballots for our corrupt top constable?
But, then, some of the best tips this cranky cockatiel gets are from sly silver foxes out there. So The Bird figures the more senile you are, the more apt you are to support mean ol' Uncle Joe. Those retaining their faculties are likely to want to put Joe out to pasture in November.
The Sun City cemetery patrol bought at least 80 books that afternoon, but nothing seemed to raise Joe's flagging spirits. After all, it's been a bad couple of weeks for the dyspeptic septuagenarian.
First, the younger, better-looking Mesa Police Chief George Gascon outsmarted and outmaneuvered Arpaio over Joe's poorly executed anti-immigrant sweeps in that city. As everyone knows, the sweeps are all about Joe's strutting for the press. But the once-fearsome sheriff wussed out, opting to hold his press conference for the sweep at MCSO headquarters on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Phoenix, while Gascon and Arpaio enemies like Dan Saban made the scene, garnering cheers from the crowd.
Up on the 19th floor, in full uniform, Joe flailed his arms and bitched about Gascon's "garbage" like a bitter old queen, or an ofay version of Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe, take your pick.
Instead of setting up a command center for the operation at the Mesa MCSO substation or at some other locale in town, MCSO deputies seemed as though they were the ones on the run, furtively eluding activists hell-bent on recording their every move, like those from the Phoenix-based Copwatch. According to Copwatch, the MCSO would set up a base of operations in a supermarket parking lot, for instance, only to wrap it up and move out to parts unknown once the ad hoc command post was discovered by roaming activists.
This didn't stop the MCSO from making arrests of suspected illegal immigrants, but the damage was already done, PR-wise.
Coincidentally, on day one of the disastrous Mesa dragnet came the Arizona Republic's revelation that Joe's essentially a sheriff for hire, taking $4,000 from Turf Paradise racetrack owner Jerry Simms, Simms' family members, and others affiliated with Simms' track. Simms has been linked to mob frontman Alan Glick in the past, but that didn't stop Joe from taking Simms' scratch or the MCSO from instituting an investigation of Arizona's Racing Department, on Simms' behalf (see the Valley Fever blog post "Meet Joe Arpaio's new best buddy . . ."). Sheriff's Office flack Paul Chagolla said it was because the MCSO got a tip on the Racing Department, and were duty-bound to investigate.
Guess where that tip came from? Simms' lawyer, Gerald Alston. And the MCSO took it up only after two other law enforcement agencies turned the case down.
Joe's recent troubles began as much as a week before these debacles, with the massive anti-Joe demonstrations unleashed on the Board of Supervisors, who, for the most part, continue to back Joe, despite the heat they're getting for doing so.
But the PR nightmare engendered by the sea of demonstrators inside and outside the Supes meeting was not helped by Chief Deputy David Hendershott, who went ballistic outside the meeting on Channel 12 News reporter Joe Dana.
Dana wanted to know why Hendershott had vacationed in China and, while there, stayed in the same hotel as a county contractor that supplies facial-recognition technology to the MCSO. You know, the same facial-recognition technology that the MCSO's ongoing Honduras Operation uses.
Henderblimp flipped out, accusing Dana of being guilty of a Class 6 felony, just for inquiring into his travel to exotic lands. Sounds like Dana hit a nerve.
After Henderblimp's eruption, the retreat in Mesa, and the revelation of Joe's servile attitude toward a shady donor, it's no wonder that Arpaio, the one-time colossus, resembled a shriveled-up, discarded tamale husk. The Bird half-expected Joe to start crooning that old Otis Redding hit "Mr. Pitiful." Save for the fact that Redding sung his classic soul ditty about a man made pitiful by a woman. Arpaio's been made pitiful by himself and his top employee.
No one really expects or wants their hometown police department to be the harbinger of hysteria. But the Phoenix PD, in the person of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association president Mark Spencer, has been doing just that recently. Spencer enacted his own version of that Norman Jewison comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, save that the nationality involved is Mexican instead of Rooskie, and Spencer was not playing it for laughs.
PLEA is essentially the Phoenix police officers' union, and Spencer its full-time rep. Like most union reps, he's full of the brown stuff, and no, this famous grouse doesn't mean bourbon.
Spencer, who resembles the Pillsbury Doughboy with a Wilford Brimley mustache, was all over the media last week, squawking that the Mexican military was behind a recent home invasion/murder/robbery at a house near 83rd Dr. and West Cypress Street. Spencer was armed with preliminary PPD reports stating that one of the three captured suspects had said he and his buds were former Mexican military or had had military training, at least.
Though the internal reports were tentative and came almost immediately after the incident, Spencer didn't wait a lick before leaking them, contrary to Phoenix PD policy. In fact, Spencer had them posted on PLEA's Web site with a goofy illustration showing home invaders in full-body armor and carrying assault rifles, under the title, "PPD Reports Mexican Military in Phoenix."
Officially, the PPD had reported no such thing.
Rather, PPD flack Joel Tranter had been quoted about the disturbing-enough details, saying the suspects were in tactical gear, armed with assault rifles, and wearing shirts identifying them as Phoenix cops. Approximately 100 rounds had been sprayed into the house, which had been linked to the drug trade. And the occupant of the home lost his life.
But Spencer added another layer to the awfulness, using pure speculation to spin a scary tale of the Mexican military come to the PHX. Acting as a self-appointed flack for the Phoenix cops, his account of the home invasion allowed for only one interpretation: Mexican forces were in town causing chaos.
"We have Mexican military in our city," Spencer told KFYI host and former Congressman J.D. Hayworth on the latter's show. "Using tactical weapons, operations, [they] committed a homicide of a person inside of a home, fled, and then were subsequently willing to utilize ambush techniques and deadly force against our men and women."
Other wing-nut windbags, like KTAR bigot Darrell AnKKKarlo, lapped up the story, but so did the general media, with TV stations repeating Spencer's cock-and-bull blarney. On Channel 12, for instance, Spencer amped up the hysteria full-throttle.
"So we're in a situation now," spat Spencer, "in the city of Phoenix, when somebody does a tactical entry into your house, the occupant has a question to ask: Is it the Mexican military, or is it the Phoenix police?"
Problem is, those initial, internal reports Spencer was relying on to support his claim didn't hold up. Of the three individuals nabbed after the home invasion, the one who had made the statements about military training turned out to be a U.S. citizen (the other two are reportedly Mexican nationals).
ICE flack Vinnie Picard has since stated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no evidence of the men in custody being Mexican military, ex or otherwise. And the Phoenix PD has completely discounted Spencer's Mexican military fantasy. Sergeant Tranter even told this talon-bearer that Spencer was in violation of department policy on the release of information to the public.
In defiance of the facts, Spencer's sticking to his guns as of press time, alleging that the Phoenix PD is trying to hide the truth. In reality, Spencer's cockeyed gambit was all about his effort to have the Phoenix PD outfitted like something out of RoboCop or Iron Man, even wielding tactical rifles on the beat if they wanted to. Next thing you know, Spencer will be demanding every cop patrol in tanks, bazookas at the ready.
What Spencer's done is cynically use this already frightening home-invasion incident to further petrify the public so that he can score a change in department policy — which currently allows for only so many assault rifles in circulation among Phoenix PD officers. In doing so, Spencer played the Mexican card, exploiting right-wing demagoguery about a Mexican "invasion" to peddle his shabby tale.
Phoenix PD rank and file should think long and hard about having someone as unreliable as Spencer as their rep, unless they prefer being perceived as a bunch of xenophobic nervous Nellies who get their panties in a bunch and cry wolf whenever a home invasion goes down. John Q. Public looks to the po-po for calm and reassurance, not the inflammatory rumor-mongering Spencer prefers.
Underlying Mexican-baiting such as Spencer's is the landscape of bigotry, blame, and fear we all currently live in, one more akin to Selma, Alabama, circa 1960 than this feather duster would like. All the undocumented in Sand Land are commonly referred to by Sheriff Joe and others as "criminals," when the most they are usually guilty of is a civil violation of U.S. law, one that carries a possible fine and threat of deportation, but no jail time.
Yeah, yeah, there is a federal misdemeanor for unlawful entry to the U.S. that carries a possible six months' incarceration as punishment. Thing is, violators have to be caught in the act. Many on the anti-immigrant side of the fence "assume" that those present illegally are guilty of this crime, but you know the old saw about assuming things. Try proving it in court, bub, not just labeling a whole class of people "criminals."
As far as this nutcracker's concerned, folks here illegally are about as worthy of the "criminal" label slapped on 'em by nativists as speeders and other small-time scofflaws. But unlike some cracker caught doing 60 in a 55 mile-per-hour zone, those of questionable residency in the Valley risk deportation for such minor offenses. No nitwit nativist has to worry about being treated in such a manner, which may be why nativists ask such dumbass questions as, "Just what is it about the word 'illegal' that you don't understand?"
Thus, the undocumented caught up in ICE-approved Joe dragnets, for instance, remind this raven of Jodie Foster's character in The Accused. That is, they get effed over by the system and then treated as though they had it coming.
Take the sad case of Cruz Ortega-Enriquez, pulled over in Fountain Hills by MCSO deputies on May 6 for improper tinting on her vehicle's windshield and soon on a one-way trip back to her Mexican homeland. Ortega-Enriquez cleaned houses for a living, and was motoring to a client's home when she was stopped.
Ortega-Enriquez had been in the country for 14 years and apparently had a valid Arizona driver's license, as well as valid proof of insurance and registration. But according to her arrest affidavit, the 287g MCSO deputy (who can act as an immigration official under the MCSO's agreement with ICE), asked Ortega-Enriquez for her Social Security number, which she didn't have — the result being that she was arrested on suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally.
Ortega-Enriquez, who has no criminal history, and her lawyer, Gerald Burns, say she was coerced into signing a voluntary removal form, that she was told that if she didn't sign the document waiving her right to fight deportation, MCSO deputies would make her sign. They say she was kept in atrocious conditions, even denied water, food, and access to a bathroom.
Ortega-Enriquez demanded an attorney, but was ignored. This, despite the fact that her husband had already engaged Burns, and Burns had been trying frantically all day to get in contact with his client, inquiring continually to ICE as to her whereabouts. By the time Burns got to speak with her, she'd already been sent back to Mexico, having signed the voluntary departure doc.
Thing is, Burns insists, Ortega-Enriquez had a claim that her removal would cause her two American-born sons, Jose, 6, and Fernando, 13, extreme hardship. And Burns insists that, according to federal immigration law, ICE had a responsibility to determine if such a situation existed.
Asked about the incident, ICE replied that it's investigating the matter.
Now her husband, a handyman, has to worry about the same thing happening to him as he raises their children alone. Questioned about those who say he and his wife deserve what has happened to them because they're illegal, Ortega-Enriquez's husband broke down into tears.
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"Just give us a chance," he pleaded. "I speak for myself and for my family. We are good people. We just want to move ahead in life with our families."
The couple has two daughters who aren't U.S. citizens — one 15, the other in her 20s. Like their father, they face what their mom's gone through if they're ever caught with a broken tail light or cracked windshield, even though both grew up here and are Americanized. Both daughters wept as they wondered when they would see their mom again.
"For me, it's very depressing," sobbed the eldest daughter. "When [my mom] got arrested, I had just gotten off the phone with her. Now I can't see her for God knows how long because I can't go over there."
These people are not criminals. And asserting that they are is as absurd and repulsive as the Constitution's insistence back in 1787 that African-Americans be counted as three-fifths of human beings. If nativists and their fellow travelers had any shame, they'd realize this in a heartbeat. But that wrongly assumes these a-holes have hearts.