Turn Up the Heat

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Lankford ruled that evidence presented in the inmate's lawsuit that led to the opinion supported the jury's finding that Arpaio was "callously indifferent" to Eighth Amendment protections afforded to prisoners and that he purposely "exposed Tent City inmates to serious injury."

Arpaio considers the appeals court ruling a minor nuisance.

"It doesn't impact anything," he told me last year, before he stopped speaking to me because I persisted in reporting on his corrupt regime.

When was the last time you told a Court of Appeals judge to shove it?

Arpaio's arrogance and reckless disregard for the law sends a powerful signal to his employees, many of whom take great delight in humiliating and threatening inmates and even their visitors.

Governor Janet Napolitano could put a stop to the Tent City outrage by ordering her newly appointed fire marshal, Bob Barger, to reject Arpaio's pending request for a variance to keep the tents open.

Napolitano could prove that she's more than a self-absorbed career bureaucrat worried that she must keep her head down so she can hang on to her current job for another term, or move on to something even more high-profile.

If Napolitano truly had the right stuff of courageous leaders, she would stare down Arpaio by putting a stop to his Tent City antic. For a politician worried about her career, there's nothing to lose anymore: Joe's demented regime has become the laughingstock of law enforcement across the state, and even Republican party bigwigs hate the blowhard's guts.

I'm saying that when the vast majority of the state's cops and powerful GOP officials -- hardly a bunch of liberal pantywaists -- come out strongly against one of their own, there's political capital to be gained by dashing Arpaio's delusion of grandeur and forcing him to close a facility that can never meet basic fire code regs.

Soon, there should be no need for Tent City. Taxpayers spent a whopping $500 million for two state-of-the-art jails that would be ready to go except for one giant problem.

Arpaio hasn't hired the 1,000 guards necessary to open the 3,200-bed facilities.

Even though he's had seven years to do it.

Somebody -- the governor, the county supervisors -- should tell him to get off his wrinkled ass and hire these detention officers pronto, because Tent City will be phased out because it cannot live up to minimum safety standards.

It's obvious Arpaio is dragging his feet in staffing the new jails. Why would he want to close his filthy Tent City gulag after it has made him a worldwide celebrity?

Arpaio knows he can always generate overcrowding in the jail system with haphazard roundups of deadbeat parents and prostitutes. If he really needs prisoners to prove his point that Tent City is still needed, he could even pull tens of thousands of warrants out of file cabinets and have his deputies sweep through poor neighborhoods.

In other words, he wouldn't be above phonying things up. He couldn't care less how much it costs taxpayers.

As a former U.S. attorney for Arizona and former Arizona attorney general, Napolitano must know that Arpaio uses Tent City to purposely violate the constitutional rights of Arizona's citizens in a crass grab for political power.

Such vulgarities are the hallmark of dictators.

Napolitano ducked my recent question about the future of Tent City during her weekly press conference, passing the buck to her newly appointed fire marshal to decide whether to issue another variance to keep Tent City open.

"The fire marshal can take a look at all the evidence, all the facts, and make a . . . determination," she said. The governor doesn't like to be asked tough questions at her weekly love fest with the daily media.

The trouble is, Bob Barger has been in office only six weeks and is still awaiting Senate confirmation. He's not going to declare war on Arpaio without Napolitano's blessing.

Barger tells me he hopes ongoing discussions with the sheriff's office will lead to a timetable for transitioning inmates out of Tent City and into the new jails.

"How long do you keep granting variances to the fire code?" says Barger, who made it clear to me that 12 years is long enough.

But Barger's engaging in wishful thinking if he believes Arpaio will voluntarily phase out the tents. The hammer will have to come down or Outlaw Joe will never budge.

It's clear that Barger wants to do the right thing. He wants to do his job, which is to ensure the safety of Arizona's citizenry, even if they are inmates in Arpaio's lockups. What the governor must do now is stop going against the wishes of her bedrock constituency of progressives and stand up to Outlaw Joe. She must back her fire marshal's clear belief that Tent City's an anachronism.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty