The Nooses Must Be Cut Down

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas have defiled our town square with hanging corpses: five county supervisors, four superior court judges, two county administrators, three attorneys, an entire law firm, and (everywhere) Mexicans.

All of this occurred in a single month, December 2009, when the two lawmen filed racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice, and hindering prosecution charges against their enemies.

Three days before Christmas, prosecutor Sheila Polk broke ranks.

Her stunning letter in the morning newspaper provided the blade to cut down these nooses.

Reputations may never be restored, but the public lynchings must stop, the federal government must act, common decency must be restored.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk must be called before the state grand jury currently investigating six-figure political corruption inside Sheriff Joe Arpaio's command staff.

Attorney General Terry Goddard must, at last, move and move decisively.

Polk would be a cooperative witness.

"If they [the Attorney General's grand jurors] ask, and they need something, she would provide whatever they ask," said Polk's chief of staff, Dennis Magrane, in a Christmas Eve interview.

Finally, President Barack Obama's Justice Department investigators, already probing in Arizona, need to confront the demagogues emerging from the desert arroyos just as federal men once confronted the fevered populists who emerged from the swamps of Louisiana and the piney woods of Mississippi.

Polk's stunning letter in the December 22 issue of the Arizona Republic laid bare her opinion of the abuses by Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

For six months, Polk had served as Thomas and Arpaio's lead prosecutor looking into their allegations against the Board of Supervisors, superior court judges, and the contracting process of the new courthouse.

Based on her dealings as an insider, Polk savaged both Thomas and Arpaio.

Whatever the outcome of current litigation, "It will not repair the tremendous damage being done to the entire judicial system by the manner in which these investigations and prosecutions are being handled," wrote Polk. "What is transpiring in Maricopa County is wrong."

Beyond the current state grand jury, Polk's vivid criticism provides a virtual roadmap for federal investigators currently examining civil rights violations by Arpaio and Thomas.

While Polk's assessment was shocking in its frank evaluation, details were few and should be asked for at both the state and federal levels.

Attorney General Goddard can begin with state statutes: Interference With Public Administration and Interference With Judicial Proceedings.

The fact, however, is that Arizona statutes were written by prosecutors who did not envision rogue law enforcement. Consequently, Arizona , like all states, must rely upon the federal government to address America's Huey Longs and Bull Connors.

Department of Justice investigators in Phoenix have two federal statutes at their disposal: 18 USC 241 and 242. They prevent anyone in law enforcement from "intimidating any person . . . in the free exercise of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . ."

And: "Whoever, under color of law . . . willfully subjects any person . . . to the deprivation of any rights . . . protected by the Constitution . . . shall be imprisoned . . . "

The history of Arpaio and Thomas is a history of the vivid evisceration of their perceived enemies, whether these opponents are judges upholding the protections the Constitution affords immigrants, reformers advocating for the Constitutional rights of prisoners, journalists exercising their Constitutional guarantee of free speech, or candidates invoking their Constitutional right to seek office.

Thomas and Arpaio routinely abuse the Constitution with fishing expeditions that produce indictments without ever producing convictions.

Now, for the first time, an insider is blowing the whistle.

"Our power, granted to us by the people, is not a personal tool to target political enemies or avenge perceived wrongs," wrote Polk. "Prosecutors are ethically bound to refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause."

What, precisely, happened? We are unlikely to have details until the Justice Department and the attorney general ask. But Polk's chief of staff sketched out the problem.

Magrane explained that Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, behaved like a kid in a candy shop when it came to investigating perceived enemies.

According to Magrane, the Sheriff's Office abused the subpoena process.

"Grand juries are not just free for-alls," said Magrane. "You can't say, 'I don't like Mike Lacey, therefore I'm going to look into his life.'"

Magrane explained that law enforcement needs "to have information that Mike Lacey did something wrong, not simply that 'there could be something, so let's take a look.'"

Arpaio and Thomas filed racketeering and bribery charges against County Supervisors Fulton Brock, Andrew Kunasek, Donald Stapley, Mary Rose Wilcox, and Max Wilson; county managers David Smith and Sandi Wilson; attorneys Wade Smith, Thomas Irvine, and Edward Novak; the law firm of Polsinelli Shughart; and Superior Court Judges Barbara Mundell, Anna Baca, Gary Donahoe, and Kenneth Fields.