News

Useful Idiots

How does Sheriff Joe Arpaio get away — metaphorically speaking — with murder?

With the assistance of useful idiots in the Fourth Estate, as this P.O.d parakeet has witnessed time and time again.

Whether he's deputizing Spider-Man, throwing some imbecilic Inmate Idle competition or making the asinine suggestion that Paris Hilton serve her DUI time in Tent City, our chief constable forever plays the fool, reeling in media morons for the sheer spectacle of his lame-ass antics. All while gleefully dancing on his victims' graves.

On May 11, a federal jury decided in his favor in a lawsuit brought by the parents of Phillip Wilson, an inmate who, while serving a two-month stint in Tent City for a parole violation, was beaten bloody by members of the Aryan Brotherhood (a.k.a., the Woods) in 2003 and later died in a coma. Joe declared it a "great victory," in his subsequent news conference.

"So this is all hype about these tents, about my jail system," squawked Sheriff Joke. "It's hype by the press, by certain lawyers who want to destroy this sheriff."

Joe was referring to attorneys like Mike Manning, who repped Wilson's parents in court, and who's won multimillion-dollar cases on the behalf of others who've been killed in Joe's gulags.

"It's astounding to see someone celebrate so joyously about the death of someone who was in his care and custody," Manning told The Bird. "Litigation and adversarial relationships aside, what kind of man celebrates that?"

The lowest of the low.

Manning's sworn to push for a new trial, arguing that the overwhelming evidence is counter to the outcome. Manning also noted that the five men who attacked Wilson were never punished for their dastardly deed and were returned to Tent City's general population by Joe's minions.

The inmate who ordered the killing has since died. But the other men live, and they've never been brought to trial. Some crime fighter that Joe, eh?

There but for the grace of that Big Bird in the Sky goes you, your daughter or your son. Wilson had been popped for possession of marijuana. He was a nonviolent inmate. He did not deserve the death penalty, though that's what he received.

Rarely remarked upon in the reporting of Arpaio's big "win" was the fact it occurred back-to-back with a huge loss.

On April 18, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved a seven-figure settlement — at least a million samolians, and probably more — in the 2005 death of Clint Yarbrough. Yarbrough, whose parents also are represented by Manning, expired not long after he was strapped into one of Arpaio's notorious restraint chairs in the Fourth Avenue Jail.

The Board of Supes has yet to release the details of the settlement to the public, and Manning's muzzled by a confidentiality agreement. But if you have the stomach for horror shows, CBS Channel 5, one of the few TV news outlets willing to go after Nickel Bag Joe, has disturbing footage on its Web site (www.kpho.com/news/9454105/detail.html) of Yarbrough being subdued by officers while in one of the restraint chairs.

These medieval torture chairs were no longer in use by the sheriff's goons as of August 2006 because of successful lawsuits brought by Manning: $9 million in the death of Charles Agster III; $8.25 million in the case of Scott Norberg. Both men suffocated while in the chairs.

Most journos seem bored by such facts. They'd rather have The Joe Show. Easy pickins, requiring no difficult reporting.

During the Wilson trial, even New Times' sister paper in L.A. stupidly ran a fluff piece penned by one of its staff writers on Arpaio's Inmate Idle stunt, as if the pathetic publicity gimmick were a boon to mankind. After the Wilson verdict, idiot press the world over swallowed whole Arpaio's offer to turn his jails into a regular Shawskank Redemption, so socialite/porn princess Paris Hilton could serve her time under his watchful eye.

CNN's Nancy Grace, who always looks like she's ready to bite a baby's head off, also fell for this incredibly ludicrous PR bullshit and had Joe on to jawbone about it. Doesn't seem to matter that Joe has absolutely nothing to do with Hilton or the L.A. County jail system. Indeed, on Channel 3 news, Joe was unabashedly playing media whore over Hilton.

"Not that I'm a publicity hound," he salivated. "But I imagine if I had her here in these tents, there'd be paparazzi here from all over the world seeing how she could survive it."

Media outlets that should know better also play by Arpaio's rules, one of which is: If you're ready to shine Joe's jackboots, you get all the access you want. Case in point is National Geographic's Lockdown series, which goes inside America's prisons. This tweeter was tipped to the fact that Nat'l Geo had been filming in Tent City for a month by an anonymous jailbird who screeched that the crew was recording "staged" events.

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