Outlaw Joe

From here on out, 72-year-old Joe Arpaio isn't the Maricopa County sheriff in my book.

He's an outlaw waiting to be hog-tied and strapped into one of his infamous restraint chairs scattered throughout Maricopa County's jails.

I now have proof, in writing, from one of Outlaw Joe's top deputies, that reveals how Arpaio's office has crossed the sacred line separating a legitimate law enforcement agency from a latter-day Gestapo.

Last April, Arpaio's five-member "threats management unit" opened a politically motivated criminal investigation of his opponent in the September 7 Republican primary, retired Mesa Police Department commander Dan Saban.

The investigation was triggered after the sheriff's office received a call from Saban's foster mother alleging that Saban had assaulted her more than, get this, 30 years ago. At the time, the foster mother, Ruby Norman, was in her late 20s and Saban was in his mid-teens.

Part of the reason Saban is outraged is that he says it was his foster mother who sexually abused him. By the way, as countless celebrated cases around the country have proven, it's illegal for any adult to have sex with a minor, even if the adult is female and the minor is a male teenager.

It's so typical of the vindictive Arpaio -- whose goon squad has been sicced on Joe's enemies before -- to try to turn a teenage sexual assault victim turned political rival into a criminal.

In addition, even if the allegation were true, it was obvious that there was nothing the sheriff's office could have done because the woman was finally calling police long after the statute of limitations had expired.

It was well known at the time the MCSO received the call from Norman that Saban was challenging Arpaio in the upcoming election.

To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, MCSO should have immediately referred Norman to another police agency. The state Department of Public Safety was a logical choice.

But instead of doing the right thing, Arpaio dispatched his "threat" squad officers, who then improperly used their police powers to try to destroy a political opponent based on a dubious claim by a woman who clearly was on a vendetta.

Outlaw Joe's brown shirts interviewed Norman, wrote up a criminal report that never should have been prepared and then leaked it to a Channel 15 television reporter, who had earlier contributed $100 to Arpaio's reelection campaign.

The reporter, Rob Koebel, ambushed Saban after a campaign event and broadcast an April 30 hit piece announcing that the sheriff's office had opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Saban had sexually assaulted his foster mother.

Outlaw Joe and Koebel got what they wanted by calling Saban literally a motherfucker on the evening news. But we know who the real bastards are in this case. One already has bitten the dust, and it is only a matter of time before the other one goes down.

Channel 15 fired Koebel earlier this month after the station learned that he had contributed money to Arpaio's campaign before doing the story on Saban.

Joe should be the next one to go down -- hopefully in the upcoming Republican primary. Meanwhile, it's time for the feds, the state or the county to get off their butts and do what is right: Conduct a criminal investigation into Arpaio's shop.

There's plenty of smoke billowing from the sheriff's office on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building that should be triggering major alarms with U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, County Attorney Rick Romley and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Hey, guys, if the fact that Outlaw Joe is plowing huge amounts of cash ($800,000 and counting) into real estate -- far more than his salary and DEA pension would suggest he's capable of investing -- doesn't fire you up, you might want to read the June 23, 2004, sworn deposition of deputy Sergeant Steve Bailey.

I got a copy of the deposition conducted by Phoenix attorney Joel Robbins. It made my week.

Bailey is one of the five members of Arpaio's threat squad, which is supposed to investigate threats against judges, deputies and other county officials. Bailey oversees three detectives, and he reports to Lieutenant Ray Jones, who, in turn, reports to Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott.

Bailey testified that he was ordered by Lieutenant Jones to interview Ruby Norman late last April after the sheriff's office received a call from Norman alleging a sexual assault.

There have been allegations in the past that Arpaio's threat squad has conducted illegal surveillance and covert operations against political opponents. But this is the first time that a member of the threat squad has testified under oath describing how the unit would go to great lengths to try to destroy a political opponent.