I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dave Wells on Arpaio, Constitution

Sheriff’s tactics to silence foes raise Constitutional issues

Published Saturday, November 07, 2009 in Southeast Valley Opinions of the Arizona Republic as “Sheriff’s tactics to silence foes raise Constitutional issues.”

Note: The day after I submitted this for publication (Oct. 30), KPHO broke the story that what I’m reporting here is far more widespread and that the FBI is investigating (if embedded video doesn’t show-try this link   

What separates the United States from countries like Iran is our Constitution, which creates checks on the abuse of governmental authority.  But can it check the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office?
The recent Cronkite Eight poll found 61 percent of those in Maricopa County approve of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s job performance, out distancing anyone else.  Unlike Governor Jan Brewer who had one in five respondents express no opinion or Treasurer Dean Martin where half had no opinion, nearly everyone has an opinion on the Sheriff; only four percent didn’t.

One has to wonder what it would take for the public to turn on this popular Sheriff.  He has twice held press conferences since the Federal Government revoked his 287(g) authority to enforce immigration violations through targeting minor vehicle violations in Hispanic neighborhoods.  First, he cited a law that didn’t exist and then he pulled a page from an outdated manual, while defiantly insisting he’ll continue his sweeps.  The public, according to the poll, backs him.

In other words, the county’s top law enforcement official is intentionally violating the law.  This, unfortunately, is no aberration.  Repeatedly in his endless efforts to grab headlines, he places public safety at risk, while seeking to silence those who oppose him.

Recall last October’s 2 a.m. raid of Mesa’s City Hall because a cleaning service had allegedly employed workers who were here illegally.  Rather than work with the city internally on the issue, and rather than alert the Mesa police department of their intended action, Sheriff deputies instead swept in dramatically fully armed after midnight on the unsuspecting cleaning staff.

Earlier last year the Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability began demanding the Board of Supervisors investigate the Sheriff’s office’s conduct and use of funds, following numerous details in the press.  Their leadership became targets for arrest.  At one Board meeting the Sheriff’s office cleared the room after members protested their continued exclusion from the agenda.  Sheriff deputies then locked the public out of the meeting in violation of Arizona’s open meeting law.  At a subsequent meeting, the Sheriff’s office targeted their leader Randy Parraz.  Parraz dressed in a suit as he stood peacefully on public property was shackled on his legs and handcuffed. Then with the cooperation of the County Attorney’s Office charges were vigorously pursued for disorderly conduct and trespassing.

In August, Justice Armando Gandarilla, after viewing videotape taken by the Sheriff’s office, ruled that the arrest was in gross violation of Mr. Parraz’s first amendment rights.  The Constitution prevailed.
Last December, five other leaders of the organization were arrested by Sheriff deputies after applauding one of their own during public comments.  Again charges were pursued to the fullest, and they, too, were exonerated, upholding the Constitution.

Like in Iran, citizens protesting the action of the Sheriff are arrested and intimidated.  The difference lies in our independent judiciary and Bill of Rights.

In coming months as a federal civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio, moves forward we’ll find out if those U.S. citizens who have been improperly arrested during sweeps by the Sheriff’s office for possible immigration violations had their fourth amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures violated, and if the Sheriff’s office has systematically engaged in racial profiling.

However, the courts don’t have their own police force.  So if found guilty, who will enforce that action on the Sheriff’s office? And in the court of public opinion will it even matter?

Dave Wells of Tempe holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University.  Reach him at The views are his own.

Joe Arpaio flawed legal citations and background on 287(g): County immigration authority muddled: Arpaio, foes armed with court rulings to make their cases, October 26, 2009,
Mesa City Hall Raid:
Arpaio raids Mesa City Hall; mayor outraged: Mayor outraged by sweep for illegal migrants, October 17, 2008,

Parraz Arrest:
County Supes Critic Randy Parraz Arrested by MCSO During Supes’ Do-Over Meeting (w/UPDATE), September 29, 2008
Joe Arpaio’s Thugs Menace Press Conference for MCSA’s Randy Parraz, September 30, 2008,
Arpaio foe arrested after meeting acquitted, August 11, 2009

December 17 arrests:
Tape of arrests: Arpaio arrests activists while Supervisor Kunasek watches
Four Arrests Raise Tension in Dispute Over Sheriff, December 17, 2008
5 activists arrested after supervisors meeting acquitted, Sept. 1, 2009,

Racial Profiling Federal Civil Cases:
Friday, August 28, 2009, Federal court won’t dismiss racial profiling case against Arpaio, but won’t make it into class action,

Lawsuit Charging Sheriff Arpaio Illegally Targeted Latinos In Maricopa County Can Go Forward (2/11/2009),
Melendres v. Sheriff Joseph Arpaio,,

Arpaio to be investigated over alleged violations
Racial-profiling inquiry stems from immigration sweeps
March 11, 2009

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