Feathered Bastard

The trials of Tom Bearup: Joe Arpaio's former right-hand man tells all.

Former MCSO honcho Tom Bearup with his wife Adele, from Brendan Joel Kelley's feature on him in the Anchorage Press.

From the mythical land of grizzly bears and sockeye salmon comes this gripping portrait of former Arpaio henchman turned Arpaio foe Tom Bearup, penned by ex-New Times writer Brendan Joel Kelley. You may remember Brendan for his music columns and for his New Times blog Ear Infection. Well, he's in Alaska now, working for the alternative weekly there, the Anchorage Press. Bearup, too, lives in Alaska now, which may be where we'll all have to move if Arpaio wins reelection once again.

Bearup, who's an ordained minister, is building a church and a home for unwed mothers in Soldotna, AK. In the profile, Bearup discusses how he helped Joe achieve and consolidate power, and how he eventually turned on Joe over the issue of the pink underwear money for the posse, as Joe refused to probe possible misuse of the money raised through the sale of the fuchsia boxers. He also breaks with Joe over the chilling demise of Scott Norberg in Joe's jails, a wrongful death which cost the county $8.25 million.

“I’m so embarrassed that I’ve ever had the relationship I had with Joe Arpaio, because I helped him get to where he’s at,” Bearup tells Kelley. “I think a lot of it was my credibility that got him to where he’s at, because people trusted me when I told them about him. ‘Don’t worry about that, he’s a little bit eccentric, but his heart is in the right place. He wants to do the right thing.’ And I know there was something in my heart that said maybe there’s something wrong there… the guy’s a little wacky in some areas...He became a monster. And that monster is not anything that I could be with.”

Bearup ended up running against Arpaio after leaving the MCSO. His opposition to Joe earned him retaliation in the form of wiretaps and being tailed by undercover deputies. Bearup and his wife Adele eventually gave up on AZ, heading north to AK, and freedom from fear.

But there's another, sadder part to Bearup's life, his son Patrick's involvement with neo-Nazi skinheads here in Sand Land and with the brutal 2002 skinhead slaying of 40-year-old Mark Mathes. Papa Bearup contends his son is innocent, but his son was convicted for his part in the killing, which according to testimony involved Patrick cutting Mathes' ring finger off while Mathes was still alive. Patrick is currently the only one on death row for the murder, though all parties agree he did not strike any of the fatal blows in Mathes' beating death. Two others involved copped pleas. Ringleader Sean Gaines is still awaiting trial.

I've read about Patrick's story before, and though he may not deserve to be on death row, it's hard to feel any sympathy for him. Bearup's die-hard belief in his son's innocence seems borne of a father's willful blindness more than reality.

Overall, Bearup comes across as a sympathetic though flawed character, and there are interesting insights here into Joe's oppressive reign. Kudos to Brendan for a job well done. I urge everyone to read it. Just follow the links above.

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