Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Thugs Menace Press Conference for MCSA's Randy Parraz.

MCSA organizer Parraz, at this morning's press conference.

At a press conference this morning in downtown Phoenix, Randy Parraz, an organizer with Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, described his ordeal of being arrested on bogus trespassing and disorderly conduct charges yesterday after exiting a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors' meeting. Parraz said a contingent of MCSO surrounded him and cuffed him moments after leaving the building. He was standing on public property at the time.

"My sense is that they had orders to move in and do what they could to get me arrested," explained Parraz. "When I spoke up at the meeting and was asked to leave, I said, `Sure,' and I walked out. We were in the same space outside last time and no one was arrested. It's about your constitutional rights, your freedom to express. We either have those rights or we don't."

Parraz's experience sounds like something right out of a tin-pot dictatorship.

"They made me walk 150 yards through these big tunnels that seem to go on forever underneath [downtown Phoenix]," Parraz told me. "I was shackled on my legs and behind my arms as they transported me."

At the jail, deputies placed him in solitary confinement for part of the time, pulling him out to book him, fingerprint him, and take him to a judge on one charge, only to repeat the whole process on a second charge. All told, Parraz spent about 10 hours in jail, and was eventually released after agreeing not to return to the BOS auditorium.

"They wanted to keep me there all day," Parraz said, smiling. "They referred to me as 'high-profile' High-profile? For wanting to go to a board and speak?"

Parraz's lawyer Alex Carpio says they will challenge the restriction in court, hopefully in time for Parraz to attend the next BOS meeting in October. Today's press conference was attended by Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, attorneys Danny Ortega and Antonio Bustamante, a herd of reporters, and what seemed to be a couple of members of Sheriff Joe's thuggish, plainclothes Selective Enforcement Unit, who watched from the sidelines. One of them grinned as I grilled him, asking him for his name and if he ever busts real criminals, or just citizens exercising their constitutional rights. He declined to identify himself, though Parraz said he recognized him from the arrest.

A sneaky deputy dawg spying for Joe at today's press conference? He wouldn't completely "cop" to it, but he sure talked the part.

Parraz also related that the MCSO filmed the entire event, and this was confirmed to me later by activist Adolfo Maldonado, who was present when Parraz was arrested, and said he saw at least four plainclothes MCSO videotaping the Parraz pinch. Obviously, the collar was planned well in advance, with MCSO having their camera people ready to capture the take-down.

Asked what he would tell people concerned about his arrest, Parraz asserted that personal liberty and the right to protest and speak out were at stake in Maricopa County.

"I thought we created a country because of those principles," Parraz stated. "And we're going to let them die here in Maricopa County because we have a sheriff that's over-zealous and abuses people? I don't think so. People have to stand up and take ownership of that. We're taking ownership -- MCSA -- and we're trying to move that agenda."

Later, I happened to be on the phone with former County Attorney and Dan Saban supporter Rick Romley, and asked him what he thought of the Parraz arrest.

"I don't have all the facts of it," admitted Romley, "but it sure looks like Joe Arpaio again. You know, anyone who disagrees with him, he tries to use law enforcement power to try to suppress any type of dissent. What I've read of the facts is that it was out at a public place. I mean, wait a minute, just because you don't like what they're saying, there is free speech here."

The First Amendment, however, seems to be severely limited in the Valley of the Sun. At least, as long as Joe Arpaio is in power.