Ever since the MCSO's contract for police services with the town of Guadalupe was renewed earlier this year, a small band of residents of the square-mile town has sought to monitor the interaction of sheriff's deputies with Guadalupanos.
A month and a half ago, these half-dozen or so men and women acquired video cameras, underwent training given by the Phoenix organization Copwatch, and dubbed themselves the Citizens Camera Crew. Their mission: change the dynamic between Sheriff Joe Arpaio's boys in beige and the people who live in the half-Yaqui, half-Mexican-American burg of 5,500.
That relationship has been one of an occupying force toward the occupied. In other words, mutual contempt and suspicion. The re-signing of the contract made former Mayor Frankie Montiel so unpopular that he was demoted from mayor to councilman by his fellow council members.
The new mayor, Yolanda Solarez, is no Rebecca Jimenez — the courageous ex-mayor who defied Arpaio in early 2008, when the sheriff invaded the town for one of his anti-immigrant sweeps. But Solarez lacks Montiel's baggage. Also, new Vice Mayor Lupita Avelar has been a steadfast critic of the MCSO's continued presence in her community.
As for Guad's CCC, its acquisition of video cameras has ticked off beat deputies to no end. If there's one thing cops hate, it's being videotaped in the course of their duties. (Think Rodney King.) Thus, the CCC's members, who include Guadalupe activists Andrew Sanchez and William Robles, have become the targets for intimidation and outright retaliation.
Robles — who was named Best Guadalupe Activist in last month's New Times Best of Phoenix issue for his tireless efforts to combat violence and protest the sheriff inside and outside his town — has gotten the worst of it. Likely because he's been dogging sheriff's deputies with his camera 24/7 (an activity that's constitutionally protected, I might add).
Not long after Robles began committing MCSO patrols to tape, he was stopped late at night by two deputies in a marked car. Robles was walking home along the canal from Carl's Jr. The deputies asked to see his identification.
"I told them, 'I know my rights,'" Robles says. "'But this time,' I said, 'I will let you see it.'"
The deputies claimed they were asking for the IDs of everyone walking along the canal. Once they saw Robles' identification, they asked him if he worked for New Times and mentioned they had seen him covered in the paper recently.
"They just kept asking me over and over again, like three times, if I worked with New Times," Robles says. "I kept telling them no, that what I do, I do for Guadalupe."
Robles told the deputies he was going to call another CCC member, so that the stop could be recorded. (He didn't have his camera with him at the time.) The deputies, who gave their names as Whelan, serial number 1789, and Saladen, serial number 1174, decided that was a good time to bail.
The incident repeated itself on October 22, when Robles was approached in an unmarked car by two deputies, who identified themselves as Kaplan, serial number 1506, and Bar, serial number 1188 (at least it sounded like Bar on the videotape). This time, Robles had his camera and documented the pair as they queried him about his past, implying he may have been involved in criminal activity.
The suggestion was so ludicrous that even the deputies' boss, Lieutenant Ed Shepherd, who has worked Guadalupe for decades and knows who Robles is, found it absurd.
"He certainly seems to be a harmless sort of guy," Shepherd told me when I called him about the incidents. "If he wants to follow us around, that's okay with me."
Shepherd had heard about Robles' video camera, and he told me that the deputies believed New Times had given Robles his equipment. I informed him that we had not, that Robles doesn't work for New Times, even though he's not shy about letting Valley journalists know what's going down in Guadalupe.
The lieutenant advised me that he had already instructed his deputies to leave Robles alone.
"[Deputy] Loren Gaytan told me he had a video camera," said Shepherd of the MCSO's community liaison. "I said, 'So what? It's a free country. Let him take any videos he wants.'"
If Shepherd's attitude trickled down to his men, it did so in an odd way. On the evening of Saturday, October 24, Robles was taping deputies as they closed down a late-night party, a Saturday-night ritual because Guadalupe has an ordinance ordering all parties ended by midnight.
Present was Deputy Gaytan, who shined a flashlight in Robles' face. Gaytan covered his mug with a digital camera he was carrying. And he, sneakily, began to make Robles out as a snitch, speaking loud enough that the other Guadalupanos present could hear.