Who'd expect Joe Arpaio, supposedly the "toughest sheriff in the nation," to turn all yella-belly when the New Times comes around? That's just what happened today when this fearless Feathered Bastard attempted to cover a press conference given by "Sheriff Alzheimer's" (as we occasionally call our dodderin' Deputy Dawg) and Attorney General Terry Goddard concerning a 25-count indictment against Maricopa County schools superintendent Sandra Dowling. Bully for them. Dowling seems as crooked as the Rio Grande, and my main point in attending the conference was to write an attaboy of sorts about Alzheimer's discovering -- seemingly for the first time -- the twin evils of white collar crime and corruption. Sure, I might've pointed out that Uncle Joe'd do well to investigate similar malfeasance in his own jail system, but that's beside the point. I would've still given Beelzebubba his due.
When I first heard on KTAR that a press conference was planned, I roped in my photographic accomplice Lilia Menconi, and made like a horn-eared fruit bat outta Transylvania for Alzheimer's offices on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo tower in downtown PHX. Lilia and I were buzzed in, and headed down a corridor toward the press conference, when we were immediately cock-blocked, so to speak, by Alzheimer's media henchman Lt. Paul Chagolla, who looks like he should be busy brutalizing detainees in Tent City, or workin' as a 'roid-addled rent-a-cop for some mall on the West Side. (Not implying that he takes 'roids or has ever mindlessly beaten the crap outta anyone. Just that he has the look.)
Chagolla asked us where we were from, we told him, and he told us we'd have to amscray 'cause the Sheriff's office was "in litigation" with the New Times, and this was a "secure area." He then began backing us up toward the door we came from, where I saw a line of men entering. Thinking they were fellow members of the fourth estate, I yelled to 'em, "Take good notes! We're from the New Times and we're being kicked out." That's when, of all people, AG Terry Goddard extended a hand, smiled and said something like, "Well, that's too bad." He seemed earnest, actually. So I said, "Oh, Mr. Goddard, can we come in with you?" To which, he replied, "If it were my office, I'd let you in."
Terry, you sure know how to sweet-talk a fella. Look at me, I'm all giddy!
Chagolla kept easing us out, telling us that he'd told New Times reporter Sarah Fenske why he would not allow her entry. I told him Ms. Fenske was not my boss, just a colleague. But he figured since he'd forbidden one NT reporter, he'd forbidden them all. Chagolla was joined outside the elevators by this gal in pigtails who I believe is Joe's communications director Lisa Allen-McPherson, the woman who dared former NT staffer John Dougherty to sue the Sheriff's office for public records they refused to give up. The NT has so done, and that's the "litigation" Chagolla was using as an excuse to keep me out of the press conference. I reckon the message is, "If you try to get public records out of us, we'll bar you from all of our press conferences."
(BTW, I have to admit, McPherson looks pretty hot for her age, whatever that is. I mean, I'd go there, if she were up for it. As long as she doesn't have some sorta weird cop fetish and makes me dress up like Officer Barbrady from South Park.)
I gave Chagolla my card, and asked if he would tell the Sheriff I was outside. This he declined to do, trying to get us to leave by holding open an elevator, and motioning for us to get in. Eventually, he gave up on this. I asked him if he was a public servant, and he said yes. So, like a smart-ass, I said, "Glad to meet you, I'm a member of the press, and I'd like to cover your press conference." He told me we weren't invited, and only members of the press who were invited could come. He stared at me with those cop eyes of his for a while, I guess trying to intimidate me (or maybe he just does that with everyone). But when he figured out I wasn't going to leave right away, he gave up on the stare-down and scuttled back into the office with others on their way into the press conference.
When I got back to the New Times, I shot off this short note to Chagolla, which I include below. I actually do believe Alzheimer's might have let me in, as he and I have bantered back and forth at different events in the past. But in this case, his underlings turned chickenshit on his behalf. Hell, maybe he knows all about it. Or maybe they kept him in the dark, afraid of what he might say if I started doing my Stuttering John impersonation.
Nice to meet you today, Paul, though, of course I found the circumstances quite unfortunate. I've reported on the Sheriff a couple of times, as you know. And he's always asked me, "Why don't you ever write anything good about me?" Here was my chance, and now you've messed that up. Should I see him out and about again, I'll just have to tell him that he missed his opportunity for some positive press from me because you guys seem scared as the dickens of the New Times being present. Very silly, sir. Very silly, indeed.
Give my regards to the Sheriff. We got some lovely photos of you escorting me out, and I'll be posting them online shortly.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.