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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Everyone's Still Picking on Joe Arpaio.

Critics call Arpaio aggressive, intimidating

Even before he was the Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio's brand of politics was combative and aggressive, personal and bold.


He held grudges. He lashed out at perceived enemies. He has faced criticisms of using official investigations as vendettas against rivals and detractors for 30 years, dating to his days as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's top official in Arizona.


In recent years, though, Arpaio's made-for-TV style of politics and his characteristic braggadocio have taken on a more menacing tone, say longtime observers and adversaries. They say the sheriff, emboldened by strong poll numbers, years of political victories and often-glowing national attention, has crossed the line from a hard-nosed, media-savvy politician to an intimidating lawman who many think is abusing his office.

They express worries, sometimes half-joking, sometimes not, about the sheriff tapping their phones, bugging their offices and having them followed in unmarked surveillance cars.


"Anyone who raises an issue is subject to phone calls from senior officials in his department, advising them that that's not a wise thing to do," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat and outspoken Arpaio critic, said. "If they continue comments that the sheriff doesn't agree with, people find themselves under criminal investigation or buried with Freedom of Information Act requests that would cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars."


Arpaio, a Republican, says he hasn't done anything wrong. Federal authorities are taking complaints, made by Democrats and Republicans alike, seriously.


Multiple sources have told The Arizona Republic that they've talked to the FBI about whether Arpaio has abused his office with politically motivated investigations. The Department of Justice separately is looking into whether his deputies use racial profiling in controversial anti- illegal-immigration sweeps. And the Department of Labor is looking into whether Arpaio's office wrongfully denied overtime pay to county detention officers.
Arpaio, 77, initially said he welcomed outside scrutiny, but in July announced that his office would stop cooperating with the Justice Department until it shares details of the probe.


He dismisses other criticisms as paranoia and scoffs at talk of an FBI investigation while defending his own inquiries as legitimate.


"There's no such thing as 'abuse of power' - there's no law against that," Arpaio said.


"All this garbage that we're following people around. This has been going on for 17 years. Am I paranoid? No. You know why I'm not paranoid? Because it's not true. We have nothing to hide. Why is everybody else paranoid around here? Because we're looking into allegations."


One political scientist said the national drama unfolding around Arpaio is not surprising, given the sheriff's years-in-the-making national and international reputation and his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.
"Certainly, Joe Arpaio has pushed the envelope on very sensitive issues that have constituencies that are mobilized and so he becomes a target," said Fred Solop, chairman of the politics and international affairs department at Northern Arizona University.


"It is unusual for a county sheriff to have the kind of reputation he does in the first place and it is unusual for the investigations to take place at the level they're taking. . . . But clearly he has been very bold in his actions and that's merited a bold response."


Early feud

Personality-driven "feuds" date to Arpaio's days running the DEA's Phoenix office. So do allegations of publicity-mongering.


When he came to Phoenix in 1978, Arpaio replaced Phil Jordan, the special agent in charge of the office since 1971. Jordan, who was popular with local newspaper reporters, was transferred to Albuquerque. In February 1981, the DEA announced Jordan would be demoted because of a number of minor infractions that took place while he was in Phoenix, including an allegation of improperly letting a Republic reporter examine sensitive documents related to closed cases.


Jordan fought the demotion, arguing that he was the focus of an agency vendetta by Arpaio. Jordan told the Phoenix Gazette at the time that he'd been feuding with Arpaio since 1973, when Arpaio was the DEA's regional director in Mexico City. He accused Arpaio of orchestrating a sham investigation to discredit him. Arpaio was jealous of his superior record and frequent appearances in the local papers, Jordan said at the time.


Arpaio denied the allegations, contemporaneous news accounts said, but in June 1981 Jordan's demotion was reversed. A federal Merit Systems Protection Board examiner dismissed the DEA's charge that he disclosed unauthorized information and downplayed the other infractions as "minimal," The Republic reported.
Jordan later became director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, overseeing more than 300 federal employees.


Soon after becoming sheriff in 1993, Arpaio, now in his fifth term, began publicly - and constantly - grappling with Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, the county's top prosecutor.


They clashed hard in 1993 after Romley publicly criticized as unconstitutional an Arpaio plan to set up roadblocks around Maricopa County and stop incoming cars to search for drugs.


The "feud," as the media usually characterized it, continued until Romley left office in 2005.


"Unfortunately from my perspective, those types of issues were portrayed as a personal thing between Romley and Arpaio," Romley said. "And he's masterful at that. Rather than the merits of the argument being discussed, it always seemed to be a personality fight."


After Romley left office, Arpaio began expanding his list of his high-profile combatants to include Gordon, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, three Democrats who either have been or still are under investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
As an elected official, Arpaio is autonomous and does not report to the Board of Supervisors or any other official, although the supervisors set his budget.


His office also helped bring criminal charges against longtime Supervisor Don Stapley, a Republican, and Arpaio remains largely estranged from the three Republicans who make up the rest of the five-member board, which also is under investigation. Over the years, Arpaio's inquiries have rattled Maricopa County Superior Court officials, county administrators and employees, and political candidates who have unsuccessfully run against him.


"It is not a partisan issue. It's a do-you-support-Joe-Arpaio issue," said Romley, a Republican. "If you support Joe Arpaio, it doesn't matter if you're a 'D' or an 'R,' you're OK. If you're against Joe Arpaio, it doesn't matter if you're a 'D' or an 'R,' either."

Many investigations

There is a long list of examples of Arpaio's administration formally investigating - some say trying to intimidate or harass - political rivals, adversaries or critics.


The sheriff has allied himself with current Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, also a Republican illegal-immigration foe.


Arpaio said that since he and Thomas created their joint Maricopa County's Anti-Corruption Effort, known as MACE, in early 2007, tipsters know that they have an agency that will take public-corruption allegations seriously. Arpaio says he pursues investigations as aggressively as he can, so he can, if appropriate, clear the accused person as soon as possible.


"If we get information, which we do, on allegations and I throw it in the waste basket, I'm not doing my job," Arpaio said. "So why is everybody paranoid?"


David Hendershott, Arpaio's chief deputy, adds: "Most people under investigation don't like the fact that they're under investigation, but it is what it is."


Arpaio's office doesn't have much of a history of closing high-profile investigations of public officials - investigations can remain open for months or even years with no resolution.


For example, Arpaio announced in April 2007 that he was investigating the Arizona Attorney General's Office's prosecution of former Republican state Treasurer David Petersen. The Sheriff's Office requested information that required the Attorney General's Office to produce more than 73,000 pages of documents, but Goddard has heard little for more than a year, Goddard spokeswoman Anne Hilby said.


But Arpaio did conclude an eight-month investigation into Gordon with the arrest of the man who made the original, ultimately baseless criminal allegation: Jarrett Maupin II, a civil-rights activist and political adversary of Gordon's. Maupin later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with the allegation he made about Gordon.


"I do get a sense that there is a willingness to intimidate, to threaten, individuals," Romley said. "Very subtly, not super-overt, but it's enough to get people nervous and thinking, 'Geez, I don't want Joe Arpaio knocking on my door at midnight.' You could be indicted and you may be innocent, but you're going to go through hell for several years of your life, especially financially."


Thomas clearly has a better relationship with Arpaio than Romley did but is not involved in every Arpaio investigation, said Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant county attorney who works for Thomas and had the same role under Romley.


Generally speaking, Lotstein said, public officials under investigation commonly cry political persecution and usually those allegations prove inaccurate in the end.


"I think the Sheriff's Office is a professional law-enforcement organization and until these accusations are proven, all they are are mere accusations," Lotstein said. "It's well-known that Mr. Romley and the sheriff didn't get along when he was in office, so it doesn't surprise me that he would be critical at this point."
Thomas defended the MACE investigations, such as the outstanding Attorney General's Office one, as legitimate, echoing that such cases can be tricky because the defendants often are politicians. "That dynamic does need to be taken into account when one considers all the controversy that is stirred up by public-corruption prosecutions," he said.


Jon Beydler knows how that feels to be in the sheriff's sights. The former Fountain Hills mayor flatly says Arpaio "should be in jail" for what he did to his family.


In 2002, the Sheriff's Office investigated Beydler for child neglect after his 4-year-old daughter locked herself in his car.


Beydler maintains Arpaio, a Fountain Hills resident, trumped up the case because Beydler had run for mayor on a platform of replacing the town's sheriff's office contract with a new local police service. The case went nowhere, but it generated embarrassing publicity for Beydler and helped fuel a recall effort that eventually ousted the mayor.


"It was nothing but another example of Arpaio ruining, or attempting to ruin, competitors' lives if they got in his way," Beydler said. "He conjured up this so-called child-abuse charge because my little girl locked herself in the car for a few minutes. He turned it into a full-scale investigation. He invaded my offices with police officers, with weapons, confiscating my business records and videotapes. Basically an intimidation act."
Arpaio has denied political motivation in the Beydler case.

Friends and former friends

Arpaio has turned many former friends into enemies.


Gordon and Wilcox said they both considered themselves allies of Arpaio in the past. Arpaio volunteered that he has had long, positive relationships with Goddard, a former Phoenix mayor, and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, whom the sheriff recently has sharply criticized in her role as President Barack Obama's Homeland Security secretary.


It strains credulity, Gordon said, to suggest so many of Arpaio's friends have gone bad.


"What's the only thing in the equation that's different? It's him," he said.


Wilcox said their "very good friendship" changed after Arpaio became a crusader against illegal immigration. Previously, Arpaio had no conflicts with the immigrant community, understanding from his DEA days that there "always is an ebb and flow of the workforce across the border," Wilcox said.


Arpaio would attend Wilcox's midnight basketball games for at-risk youths and never asked the kids about - or even showed any interest in - their immigration status, she said. The late-night hoops program was created to keep youths on the courts and off the streets, where they could get into trouble with drugs, gangs and crime.


"Arpaio always tried to portray toughness, but it always was in fun. He'd say, 'I'm the world's toughest sheriff,' but it wasn't mean-spirited," said Wilcox, who has worked with Arpaio since 1993. Since parting ways with him on immigration-enforcement policy, her business finances have come under investigation by the Sheriff's Office.


"The sad thing of it is, I think it's done for publicity," she said. "Sometimes I feel like sitting down with him and saying, 'Sheriff, come on, bring the old Arpaio back.' But I think it's long gone."

Heavy hitting

Where political adversaries are involved, Arpaio's law-enforcement agency often is quick to react - or overreact.


In 2002, sheriff's deputies arrested actor Nick Tarr on the charge of impersonating a police officer. Tarr at the time was playing the role of "Joe Arizona," the television spokesman for a statewide ballot measure sponsored by racetracks. Arpaio backed and cut a TV ad for a competing gaming proposition pushed by 17 Indian tribes.


Hendershott saw Tarr campaigning in downtown Phoenix in a ridiculous outfit of pink boxer shorts, a ranger-style hat, an unbuttoned khaki shirt with state Department of Public Safety patches and a T-shirt reading "I (heart) Arizona" and directed deputies to investigate. Tarr was not prosecuted but alleged his acting career was damaged. County supervisors agreed in 2008 to settle his lawsuit for $125,000.


Candidates who have unsuccessfully opposed Arpaio in past elections also have complained of harassment. Dan Saban, who ran against Arpaio once as a Republican and once as Democrat, went as far as suing Arpaio and Hendershott for defamation but lost. During the 2004 race, Arpaio's office opened a rape investigation into Saban. Hendershott had told a Channel 15 (KNXV) news reporter about the case. Authorities in Pima County, where the investigation was moved, decided the 1970s-era allegation against Saban was too old to pursue.


In 2008, Arpaio sent 60 deputies and posse members with bulletproof vests and semi-automatic weapons into Mesa City Hall and the Mesa Public Library for a predawn immigration-related raid. Arpaio publicly had sparred with local leaders, including then-Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, who had asked for at least two days' notice of any sweeps. The target of the operation: the overnight cleaning company. Mesa officials denounced the incident as an egregious political scare tactic.


Earlier this month, deputies took control of a county computer system integral to ongoing litigation between the Sheriff's Office and the county supervisors, threatening to arrest county workers if they interfered.
Dennis DeConcini, the former three-term Democratic senator from Arizona who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has known Arpaio since his DEA days and considers him "a real cop." He even praised Arpaio as "tenacious, dedicated and determined" in a blurb that appeared on the dust jacket of Arpaio's 1996 book, "America's Toughest Sheriff: How We Can Win the War Against Crime."


But DeConcini said he is particularly troubled by Arpaio's investigation of Wilcox and her husband, Earl, and is hoping that Arpaio, who supported DeConcini's 1982 re-election, hasn't overstepped his authority in going after political figures who cross him.


"I'd like to think that he is above that," said DeConcini, who served as Pima County attorney before ascending to the Senate. "If he isn't - if he isn't - he's making a huge mistake."


Reach the reporter at dan.nowicki@arizonarepublic.com.

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