Sheriff Joe Arpaio has always done it his way
The office of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ has cost the county millions of dollars, and he may be facing his toughest court fight ever.
CHAPTER 1 — Big ego, big office
Joe Arpaio’s office is as big as his ego.
It sits atop the headquarters that the Maricopa County supervisors built for him on Jackson Street in 2013, part fortress and part temple to America’s Toughest Sheriff. And though Arpaio is not a large man, he fills the room, from the oversized desk at one end to the oversized conference table at the other.
He speaks of himself in the third person; he pounds his fists on the table as he speaks.
“This sheriff has been elected six times,” he said in an interview. “He must be doing something right. So the people must like this sheriff.”
The word comes off his tongue sounding like “SHIR-uff.”
Arpaio has been the sheriff of Maricopa County for more than 22 years, the longest-serving sheriff in county history.
“Why am I doing this?” he continued. “I ask myself this question. I’m going to give you the old political thing: People want me to do this.”
It’s true: Arpaio is incredibly likable.
And he is a conundrum, an unlikely idol, unsophisticated, gruff, decidedly blue collar. His face appears frozen in a half sneer. He is of average height, maybe an inch shorter. He is not a fashion icon, from the over-long sleeves of his sports jackets to the old-fashioned tie tack in the shape of a pistol.
He has been married to the same woman for 58 years. He is a doting grandfather.
And he is a right-wing rock star.
His friend, the political consultant Jason Rose, calls him, “A PR genius and a freak of political nature.”
He speaks in bumper-sticker slogans.
He reduces reality to good and evil — and he is the good guy who goes after the bad guys.
“He says it like it is to the average people,” said Bruce Merrill, a pollster and former professor at Arizona State University. “Older folks see crime on TV, they see immigration. A guy like Joe symbolically saves them. It’s kind of like he’s a superhero.”
He has garnered national attention, national admiration, national loathing.
He has embarked on quixotic crusades that have endeared him or villainized him to Maricopa County residents and national pundits alike. He tilts at windmills, whether questioning if President Barack Obama was born abroad, filing suit in federal court over Obama’s immigration policies, or waging war on illegal immigrants — which has landed him and the county in legal hot water.
“He spends millions of dollars on things that are not his job,” former Maricopa County Manager David Smith said.
And indeed Arpaio has expanded the scope of the office beyond its principal job description of jail keeper. During his tenure, the sheriff became an immigration officer, a crusader against county corruption and an investigator of presidents.
As a result, Joe Arpaio may also be “America’s Most Expensive Sheriff.”
Legal battles have cost Maricopa County taxpayers $142 million
Since Arpaio first took office in 1993, cases involving him or his office have cost taxpayers $142 million in legal expenses, settlements and court awards, and yet he has been repeatedly re-elected.
“I know I’ve been sued a few times,” he said with a shrug.
In fact, he has been sued more than a few times.
There were enormous court awards for deaths in the jails, some of which were so large they were paid by insurance companies, instead of the county.
His deputies arrested journalists for writing about him, and taxpayers paid for it.
He arrested and a former county attorney filed charges against sitting judges, supervisors and county employees in 2008 and 2009. All of the cases fell apart. All of the targets sued and settled.
He is currently facing contempt of court in the wake of a racial-profiling and civil-rights lawsuit brought in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union. And because Arpaio failed to follow the judge’s orders in that case — and may have had the judge investigated — the major question remaining is whether he will be found in civil or criminal contempt.
Those hearings resume Sept. 24 in front of that judge, U.S. Dictrict Court Judge G. Murray Snow.
An overlapping federal lawsuit lodged by the U.S. Department of Justice against Arpaio has already cost millions to defend. But taxpayers got a break there, since Arpaio and the county supervisors settled most of its issues out of court.
Nonetheless, Arpaio plans to run for re-election in 2016.
He does what he wants.
Arpaio likes the job of sheriff because he is his own boss.
“I don’t have to report to any city manager, mayor, governor,” he said. “I have the right to make decisions.”
He frequently says, “No one tells the sheriff what to do.”
His old flip phone goes off incessantly; its ring tone is Frank Sinatra singing “My Way” at a decibel level an 83-year-old man can hear from across that spacious office.
“I don’t have any iPad, uPad,” he said as he pointed way across the room to his desk. “That’s my computer: a Smith Corona typewriter.”
Ironically, according to two of the county supervisors, much of the $40 million that the county will have to pay to bring the office into compliance with a court order from the federal racial-profiling case is for technology updates that should have been made years ago.
He brags that he gives money back from his budget every year, though he has averaged more than $6 million in lawsuits and legal expenses for every year he has been in office.
But no matter how much trouble he gets into, newspaper readers keep sending letters to The Arizona Republic saying that Sheriff Joe is the only person doing anything about immigration and crime.
As Merrill, the pollster, said, “It’s not what’s true or not, it’s the perception of things.”
And Arpaio’s chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, summed it up: “The sheriff is the face of law enforcement for a lot of people in this county.”
Many in Arpaio’s own party think it’s time for him to retire
He was once the most popular politician in the state, with an approval rate above 70 percent. That has slipped recently to 38 percent. He squeaked through his last election, in 2012, with 50.7 percent of the vote, leaving political watchers to wonder if this is the end of his run.
There are plenty of politicians from his own party who think it is time for him to leave. They complain about his disregard for the law, his lack of understanding of investigation procedure, of probable cause, his office’s history of putting opponents under surveillance.
Rumors that his deputies were following perceived enemies first surfaced in 1999, when a law-enforcement union told federal investigators the Sheriff’s Office was tailing a county attorney, an attorney who had sued him and a federal judge. In 2010, he even had an investigator for the State Bar followed. Arpaio staged an immigration raid on Mesa City Hall that embarrassed that city’s police chief.
Some former prosecutors, all Republicans like Arpaio, would rather see him retire.
“He’s a malicious influence in law enforcement,” said former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton. “It is time for this guy to step down and leave, and it’s certainly time for the voters to ask him to leave.”
“It’s way past time for Arpaio to go,” said former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a Republican. “It’s amazing to me that so-called conservatives will look the other way when someone has abused the power of government in the most extreme fashion.”
And former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, another Republican, said, “I’m not sure he came into office with the primary interest of the public good. That was secondary to what he wanted to do, which was promote Joe Arpaio.”
Arpaio denies that he craves publicity, but his friends and enemies say otherwise.
His office has been the set and subject of countless TV shows. He let the action-movie star Steven Seagal stage a reality show with one of his posses. The big coffee table in the waiting area outside of Arpaio’s office is covered with magazines bearing his face, most of them captioned “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” which Arpaio claims was coined by the TV show “60 Minutes.”
Arpaio’s two books extol his exploits as a cop in Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas and his swashbuckling days as a federal drug agent in Turkey and Latin America. He arrests the bad guys because he is a two-fisted individual who follows his own rules.
And by living up to that reputation, he is now facing contempt of court — or worse.
Inside Sheriff’s Office headquarters, people seem alternately cocksure and anxious about whether Arpaio and his top deputies will be found in criminal contempt, whether there will be another Department of Justice criminal investigation into the office, like the one started in 2008, during the George W. Bush presidential administration, and dropped in 2012.
The contempt allegations, in part, were raised because Arpaio and his chiefs ignored the initial court order to stop racially profiling Latinos, essentially seeking out illegal immigrants under the guise of legitimate traffic stops.
His attorneys so far have failed in their bid to get the federal judge to recuse himself from the case because the judge questioned a pair of apparent investigations involving the judge and his wife. Arpaio is appealing the ruling.
Those attorneys in the racial-profiling suit would like him to lie low on immigration matters. He cannot.
Sheriff defends Donald Trump at Phoenix campaign rally
Though he claims not to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, Arpaiodefended remarks by the billionaire real-estate mogul that Mexicans are rapists and criminals, flowing through the border like water.
Trump expanded on his anti-illegal-immigrant rant at his July Phoenix rally in front of nearly 5,000 angry “patriots” who cheered at every claim he made.
Arpaio took the podium before Trump, introduced in circus-barker terms as “The Greatest Lawman on Earth.”
“We got a couple things in common,” he began. “The (Obama) birth certificate: He investigated it; I did. We both want to do something about the illegal immigrants.”
The crowd cheered. Then without irony, Arpaio said, “Isn’t this great in America, where anyone can run for president?”
Even billionaires, one supposes. The crowd cheered again.
“And second: freedom of speech,” he said, laying the words out like a bullet point.
Never mind that a half-hour later, a group of young protesters would be swarmed by rally attendees when they tried to unfurl an anti-Trump banner. They were then escorted out of the conference hall by security guards, again to cheers.
Joe Arpaio: ‘I won’t surrender and I won’t quit’
Despite the ongoing contempt hearings relating to racial profiling, Arpaio’s publicity machine still sends out solicitations for campaign money in exchange for Arpaio’s continued vigilance on the immigration front.
“Meanwhile, I’ve become the target of defeat because of my support for enforcing illegal immigration laws! This is nothing but pure politics,” said one recent pitch. “But I won’t surrender. And I won’t quit.
“I don’t care if it’s the ACLU, liberal attorneys or these extreme open-border groups that want to see me gone. I’ve been the Sheriff for over 22 years and I took an oath to protect and defend both the Constitutions of the state of Arizona and the United States — and I will do that for as long as I am in office.”
The reward for contributing $100 to his campaign, the e-mail goes on to say, is a personally autographed photo.
But during the interview in his office, Arpaio’s attorney was sitting at his side to make sure he didn’t speak too freely. And when the subject of the pending contempt-of-court hearings came up, Arpaio suddenly went quiet.
“I would love to talk to you,” he said. “Do you really think I don’t want to tell you? It frustrates me.”
He stopped pounding the table. His hands dropped to his lap and fidgeted nervously.
He seemed to ponder the legal fight ahead, if only for a moment.
But he soon returned to defiance; weeks later, U.S. marshals raided Arpaio’s headquarters because he still had not turned over evidence as ordered by the judge in the racial-profiling case.
Cue the music: “I did it my way.”
CHAPTER 2 — A lone wolf from the outset
Joseph Michael Arpaio has been a loner all his life.
“The day I was born, my mother died in childbirth,” he has said more than once.
His parents were immigrants from Naples, Italy. His father ran a grocery store in Springfield, Mass. Since Arpaio was motherless and his father was busy at work, he was shuttled around the neighborhood from one Italian family to another.
“There was a lot of discipline,” the Maricopa County sheriff told The Arizona Republic in 2002. “I don’t remember what I did to get whacked. I can’t actually tell you why.”
A childhood friend told The Republic that Arpaio was withdrawn as a kid. Arpaio himself claims he was a mediocre student.
Perhaps he has always been fearless as well.
When he graduated from high school, he joined the Army and was sent to France. After three years in the service, he mustered out as a sergeant and landed a job walking a police beat in Washington, D.C.
There he met his wife, Ava Lamb, to whom he has been married for almost 58 years. They have two children, a son and a daughter. (As a matter of full disclosure, the daughter is married to the editor of the editorial pages for The Arizona Republic.)
Most of what we know about Arpaio’s career as a cop and a federal agent is of his own telling in his two books, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio: America’s Toughest Sheriff,” published in 1996, and “Joe’s Law,” published in 2008.
Actually, Arpaio didn’t write either of them, and he has said he hasn’t even read them. As recently as this year, he denied he said some of the things in the books when they came up in a court of law.
Instead, they were written by an author named Len Sherman, who works in Arpaio’s office. Sherman captures the grandiosity of Arpaio’s voice and the bravado of his tales. Some critics have postulated that the stories are embellished.
“He has press clippings from everything he ever did,” Sherman said, except perhaps a claim that when Arpaio was a police officer in Las Vegas, he once made Elvis Presley pull over on his motorcycle and then, instead of issuing a citation, took him back to the station to sign autographs for the boys.
During interviews, Arpaio opened file drawers in his office to show commendations, newspaper stories, even reports he typed up while he worked overseas for the federal Bureau of Narcotics. Arpaio remembers the names of perpetrators he arrested 60 years ago.
Walking a beat in a tough D.C. neighborhood, the Arpaio voice of the books said, Arpaio knew the good guys and the bad guys, “the lone lawman striding down main street at high noon, taking on all comers.”
“Not that everybody was glad to see me,” he wrote. “Given my gung-ho disposition, I didn’t wait for somebody else to let me know a crime was being committed. I did my own footwork, my own investigating, and I took matters into my own hands.
“Not for nothing did I ‘win’ the title of ‘Most Assaulted Cop in D.C.’ in 1957, with a grand total of 18 serious encounters — not a little pushing and shoving, not a couple of taps and it was over, but full-out battles.”
He used his blackjack and nightstick ‘without hesitation’
It was a time before “modern sensibility,” when it was OK to break heads, and Arpaio (as channeled by Sherman) extolled the bone-crushing properties of his police-issued blackjack and the reliability of his nightstick, “… and I used both without hesitation and whenever necessary, which was often.”
Arpaio spent three years on the D.C. police force, then six months in Las Vegas, before he was drawn to Chicago to work for the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, a precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
That agency threw him onto the street without wasting any time sending him to “special Treasury school to get indoctrinated into the ways and means of my new job.”
He spent four years in Chicago, using his wits to bust drug dealers, playing “a hundred roles, with a thousand stories to accompany them,” and earning the nickname “Nickel-Bag Joe,” because there was no bust too small.
Then in the early 1960s, he was shipped out to Istanbul, Turkey.
Arpaio’s stories from Turkey are glorious, as he travels to “the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but trouble and danger. … One day I’m meeting with the president of Turkey, the next day I’m shooting it out with bandits in the hinterlands.”
He repeatedly extols his disregard for the rules. He single-handedly takes 30-some Turkish opium farmers into custody, “which I mention quite incidentally, I had no authority to do.” After a shootout in which two drug dealers were killed, he angered the local governor, who “had not been properly forewarned and advised of my investigation,” and was accused of murder until the American embassy stepped in.
The typed reports he keeps in his office from those days document the gun battles and describe hauls of opium and morphine base in quantities up to a ton that he confiscated while working with Turkish law enforcement.
He ran out of bullets but still got the bad guy
After three years in Turkey, the agency transferred Arpaio to Washington, D.C.
Several newspaper articles in his files tell of a 1968 bust in Virginia when he shot it out with drug dealers while his partner was hiding in a car trunk.
The drug dealers had a gun to Arpaio’s head; Arpaio lunged for the weapon, and a melee began. Then, Arpaio, who describes himself as a lousy shot, ran out of bullets, but he managed to talk the drug dealers into surrendering to him anyway.
By 1970, he was abroad again, this time based in Mexico as director for regional operations, sending other agents to bust the bad guys in Latin America, dealing with corrupt leaders, he claims, and tracking a French drug mastermind to Paraguay.
He consulted with the U.S. ambassador in Paraguay, “and the ambassador told me I couldn’t work operationally on the ground or with the local police.”
Arpaio’s response: “Of course I can operate.”
He sent a covert crew on an unmarked government jet.
“The son of a bitch might have been smart, but he was easy pickings,” Arpaio/Sherman wrote, referring to the French drug impresario. Working with local officers, his agents snagged the Frenchman, and he was “hustled aboard the jet, which flew directly to Dallas, allowing us to forgo extradition problems between the two nations.”
So much for laws. The bad guy went to prison, according to the book.
Arpaio came back to the U.S. in 1973 and worked at the highest levels of the newly renamed Drug Enforcement Administration. He did stints in Washington, Boston, and finished out his career in Phoenix as special agent in charge of Arizona.
After he retired in 1982, he went to work in Ava’s travel agency, where he arranged flights for extradited criminals for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and offered potential orbital flights into outer space at $52,000 a pop.
Then, in 1992, when he was already 60 years old, Joe Arpaio decided to run for sheriff.
CHAPTER 3 — A nation meets ‘Sheriff Joe’
In August 1991, Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies were called to the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist temple in Waddell, which served a mostly Thai community near Luke Air Force Base.
There they found nine bodies, face down in a circle, with their heads toward the center. They had been shot execution-style.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was then under the leadership of Sheriff Tom Agnos, who had been in office for one four-year term. Detectives hustled to solve the crime, and they rushed to judgment, arresting four Tucson men on a tip provided by a mentally ill man.
“The Tucson Four,” as they became known, were driven to Phoenix and cloistered in hotel rooms where MCSO detectives browbeat them until they confessed to murders they did not commit.
Only by coincidence did MCSO detectives stumble upon the real killers, Alex Garcia and Johnathan Doody, a pair of teenagers who met in a high-school ROTC club, and they forced confessions out of them, too, trying to tie them to the Tucson Four. Eventually, when it became obvious that the Tucson men were innocent, then-County Attorney Rick Romley dropped the charges.
One of the teens confessed and was sentenced to life in prison. The other was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury, though a federal appeals court later threw out the conviction because of the forced confession. He was re-convicted in 2014. Maricopa County paid out more than $2 million for the false arrests. And Agnos was tarnished and vulnerable.
Joe Arpaio came into the race touting his drug-fighting experience and promising to carry on that fight as sheriff. He swore he would serve only one term, a promise he now says was a mistake, and one that he obviously did not keep.
But voters were distressed by the Temple Murders and the ensuing scandal and lawsuits. Arpaio squeaked by Agnos in the Republican primary, winning by 6,000 votes, then won decisively in the general election.
Almost immediately, Arpaio burst into the public eye, and his legacy has been a litany of gimmicks.
One of his earliest publicity coups came after Arpaio realized inmates were stealing underwear and taking it home when they were released. Arpaio ordered that it be dyed pink. It created an uproar that appealed to Arpaio, and he began selling the pink underwear in shopping malls, where he would personally autograph it for adoring fans.
There were some unintended consequences: An Irish court refused to extradite a pedophile priest who had fled the U.S. after being charged with sex crimes in Phoenix; the court ruled that the pink underwear was demeaning and proof of Arpaio’s abuse.
Arpaio also wrangled Army surplus tents, which he erected at his Durango Jail to house DUI arrestees and other low-security offenders. It was dubbed “Tent City,” and if it got warm or was deemed harsh, Arpaio was routinely quoted as saying, “Jail is not a country club.”
Sheriff Joe holds a press conference for every new idea
Arpaio’s other get-tough measures were similarly touted.
He changed the jail uniforms to old-fashioned, black-and-white horizontal stripes, like something out of a cartoon. He sent prisoners, including women, out on the streets to work in chain gangs. He served up green bologna sandwiches to the inmates, banned Playboy and other men’s magazines from the jails, denied access to coffee or cigarettes and chose the music and TV shows for the inmates.
He held a press conference for each and every new idea.
The public loved the tough-guy stance — and also when Arpaio showed his soft side by housing homeless dogs in an air-conditioned section of an outdated jail.
It played well to national media. Arpaio installed webcams in the jails and invited every media outlet to tour them. There were reality shows about female deputies, documentaries about Arpaio himself.
On the other hand, the public largely ignored lurid deaths of prisoners at the hands of detention officers or other inmates, even though they ended in spectacular jury awards.
In 1996, a man named Scott Norberg died after being beaten and tied into a restraint chair in one of the jails; in 2001, a mentally disabled man named Charles Agster met a similar fate in a restraint chair. Their families were awarded more than $17 million combined.
The Department of Justice took notice, investigating jail conditions multiple times since 1995. Sometimes the investigations would be dropped, other times federal judges would take the side of prisoners. But Arpaio always claimed victory.
Among the sheriff’s statutory duties is the ability to stage a posse, and Arpaio created them for every occasion: cold cases, animal abuse, aerial search and rescue.
Many of them were established as non-profit organizations that amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. The cold-case posse, for example, was the main player — and payor — in Arpaio’s investigation into President Barack Obama’s birthplace.
Not all of his ideas passed muster with the law. When he announced early in his tenure that he would set up roadblocks around the county to stop drug smugglers, he came up against Romley, who told him the plan was not constitutional.
“When he initially came to me, I told him ‘no’ on a number of questions,” Romley said. “He quit asking questions.”
Arpaio tangled with Romley again and again over the next 12 years, to the point where Arpaio tried to get Romley removed as his official lawyer under the statutes.
Notable among the disagreements was a 2004 fight over a prostitution sting at massage parlors. Romley dropped 60 cases when it came to light that some of the deputies had gone nude and engaged in sex acts with the prostitutes they arrested.
Do the duties of a sheriff include investigating the president?
According to Arizona state statutes, the law-enforcement responsibilities of a county sheriff are vaguely defined as preserving the peace, arresting criminals and stopping riots.
A sheriff’s main duties, as detailed in the statutes, are to attend the courts; keep the county jail operating and get the prisoners to court; do process serving; coordinate search and rescue missions; and take possession of the homes of deceased persons.
Arpaio expanded his duties to go off on political tangents, like investigating Obama’s birthplace and caring for abused pets. And he made himself the enforcer of state immigration law.
Policing illegal immigrants brought Arpaio to the nation’s attention — and to federal contempt-of-court hearings. Arizona was ground zero in a short-lived trend to write state laws to make up for a perceived lack of enforcement from the feds.
But immigration enforcement went from being the greatest asset to the biggest liability in Arpaio’s portfolio.
His second biggest liability was going after perceived enemies among elected officials and judges.
The third was a misunderstanding, perhaps disregard, of how public monies are spent and managed.
All three played out simultaneously between 2006 and 2010, and together, for better or for worse, they brought him to where he is today.
CHAPTER 4 — Immigration a defining issue
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio once saw himself as a defender of immigrants. He had spent part of his career in Latin America, after all, and he claimed an affinity with Hispanics.
In April 2005, an Army reservist named Patrick Haab pulled a gun on five men he thought were illegal immigrants at a rest stop on Interstate 8. He made them lie down on the ground, and he called police.
Arpaio had Haab arrested.
“Even law enforcement has to have probable cause before taking people out of their cars and telling them to lie on the ground. … He threatened to kill them,” Arpaio told the media at the time. “He did not have the right to do what he did. How did he know they were illegal aliens?”
But County Attorney Andrew Thomas refused to press charges against Haab, saying that the immigrants and their smuggler had committed felonies by entering the country illegally. Haab, he said, had every right to make a citizen’s arrest.
The incident frosted relations between Arpaio and Thomas. Attorney Dennis Wilenchik, who would later work for both, claims that he brokered a truce between the two elected officials. That truce led to a disastrous collaboration.
“We created a double-headed monster,” Wilenchik said.
Thomas had run for office with the brash promise that he could stop illegal immigration. Thomas helped pass the first state immigration laws in the country, working with Senate President Russell Pearce, who had once been Arpaio’s chief deputy.
To this day, Pearce remains a faithful Arpaio supporter. Soon, states across the union were passing their own immigration laws.
Arpaio takes center stage during anti-immigration fervor
Anti-immigration fervor raged in Arizona. Arpaio, ever conscious of the public center of attention, signed on to the fight against immigration, and made it his own.
In 2006, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office investigated the first case to go to trial on Thomas’ theory that people sneaking into the state from Mexico could be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit human smuggling.
The case was dismissed after prosecutors rested because sheriff’s deputies had based their investigation entirely on the immigrants’ confessions, which is not enough to establish probable cause.
No other conspiracy to commit human-smuggling cases ever went to trial again, though many immigrants charged with the crime pleaded to lesser offenses and were deported.
The next year, 2007, Thomas and Arpaio helped the state Legislature push through the Employer Sanctions Law, creating consequences for businesses that hired illegal immigrants. The raids on businesses, ranging from furniture manufacturers to water parks, followed.
Deputies arrested immigrants on felony charges of identity theft and forgery, ostensibly so that they could then build a civil case against the business (which rarely happened).
Arpaio or his chiefs would field complaints from citizens about Hispanic day workers gathering near businesses or about people speaking in Spanish in restaurants. Deputies and posse members were sent in saturation patrols to predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, pulling over drivers for cracked windshields, failure to use turn signals and other minor offenses and asking them for proof of citizenship.
Then Arpaio held press conferences to publicize the raids and issued press releases to announce the arrests.
Under other laws pushed through by Thomas during that period, the illegal immigrants could be held without bond. The jails filled up.
The percentage of illegal immigrants arrested was exactly proportional to their presence in the general population, but their percentage in the jails swelled because they couldn’t be released like native citizens or legal immigrants who were charged with the same crimes. Arpaio touted the numbers as proof of the criminality of immigrants.
By 2007, immigration had become Arpaio’s main priority. That year, his office aligned with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in a program called 287(g), which allowed local law-enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law and gave them access to the federal database used to track and verify citizens and legal and illegal immigrants.
At the press conference to announce the new agreement, Arpaio took the microphone and mischaracterized what the program allowed his office to do.
“Actually,” he said, “ours is an operation, whether it’s the state law or the federal, to go after illegals, not the crime first. … My program, my philosophy is a pure program. You go after illegals. I’m not afraid to say that. And you go after them and you lock them up.”
Those words would come back to haunt him in court.
Reporter rides along with deputies determined to arrest immigrants
Other law-enforcement agencies balked at arresting immigrants, which brought Arpaio and Thomas closer together.
In 2007, when they signed their agreement to implement the new law that imposed sanctions on employers who hired illegal immigrants, Thomas publicly praised his partner’s “track record of enforcing our immigration laws and not caving in to political correctness.”
Thomas issued legal opinions averring that MCSO’s crime-suppression sweeps did not constitute racial profiling and that they were being carried out according to protocol.
Despite what he and Arpaio would claim at press conferences, at times the profiling seemed blatant.
On a hot April afternoon in 2008, I rode in an MCSO cruiser during a crime-suppression operation in Guadalupe, accompanying a male and a female deputy who had been yanked off the animal-abuse unit to look for illegal immigrants.
The deputies were looking every which way, trying to figure out whom they should pull over. They were following instructions to pull over cars only in Guadalupe, regretting that they had to ignore likely prospects across the street in Tempe and noting that when it got dark, they could pull over people on bicycles if they didn’t have lights on their handlebars.
Finally, they started following a couple of teenagers in an old beater, tailing the car until the driver made a turn without signaling and they had a reason to pull him over. The driver looked Mexican. He didn’t have a driver’s license or a green card. They thought they had an arrest.
Then the teenager took out his cellphone and called his mom, who drove to the scene of the traffic stop from her house a few blocks away. She was angry.
She showed the teen’s driver’s license to the deputies. The boy wasn’t Mexican, he was Yaqui, and he had been born in Arizona. He had simply left his license at home. The deputies got back in their car and drove on.
Arpaio showed up in Guadalupe that evening for his photo opportunity. He was caught completely off guard when Rebecca Jimenez, the town mayor, got in his face and complained about the harassment of her townspeople.
He was so annoyed at Jimenez that he withdrew his office’s police coverage of the town,which did not have its own police force.
It was not the first nor last time he tangled with a public official.
CHAPTER 5 — Foes and threats
On Jan. 25, 2006, Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools Sandra Dowling and her husband, Dennis, were coming home from a meeting with her attorney.
The meeting was related to her battle with the County Board of Supervisors over her pet project, the Thomas J. Pappas Schools for the Homeless, which were seen by the supervisors as an expensive budget drain.
Dowling had won the initial court battles proving that the elected officials on the Board of Supervisors could not tell another elected official how to run his or her office.
Maricopa County officials called Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office to say they thought deficits in Dowling’s budget came from misuse of funds, and MCSO served search warrants on Dowling’s office and her home.
The Dowlings’ daughter called to tell them someone had broken into the house.
Dowling told her, “Call the police.”
The daughter answered, “It is the police.”
When Dowling and her husband arrived, she recalls, there were three helicopters and at least 35 Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies wearing SWAT team gear.
“Every time I see Joe, he tells me there was only one helicopter, because they only had one,” Dowling said. She assumed the others were media helicopters.
It was cold, and Dowling was wearing a short-sleeved blouse, but when she tried to enter her house to get a sweater, she said, a deputy stiff-armed her and knocked her to the ground.
She called her lawyer, who told her to leave before she was arrested. She and Dennis went to a neighbor’s house and watched the raid on television.
“You would have thought it was a murder scene from the media coverage,” she said.
They didn’t get back to their ransacked house until after 3 in the morning.
Eleven months later, Dowling was indicted on 25 criminal counts related to the operation of the Pappas Schools, including what investigators and prosecutors said was the theft of $1.9 million in public money.
The case was being prosecuted by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, but it passed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office when Arpaio began investigating Attorney General Terry Goddard on unrelated matters that never came to fruition.
The Dowling case fell apart, the charges were thrown out, and Dowling ultimately pleaded guilty to a Class 2 misdemeanor for giving a summer job to her daughter. She was sentenced to probation that expired when her term of office ended. She sued, alleging malicious prosecution, and was eventually granted a settlement of $250,000.
It was the first of the assaults on supposedly corrupt elected county officials.
Sheriff’s Office takes on Phoenix New Times owners
Next Arpaio took on the media.
In 2007, Arpaio’s chief deputy, David Hendershott, ordered the arrest of the owners of Phoenix New Times, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin.
Three years earlier, the alternative news weekly had published an article that revealed the addresses of several properties owned by Arpaio. The story violated an obscure state law that makes it illegal to publish a law-enforcement officer’s address online; strangely, it is not illegal to publish such addresses in print.
Arpaio pushed County Attorney Andrew Thomas to press charges. Thomas appointed Dennis Wilenchik as special prosecutor. Wilenchik then issued a subpoena demanding documents related to the story and a list of the newspaper’s online readers.
Lacey and Larkin responded by defying grand-jury secrecy and revealing the contents of the subpoena
Deputies showed up at their houses in the dead of night and threw them into dark SUVs with tinted windows and Mexican license plates. Although the two publishers were detained briefly, no charges were filed. They were ultimately awarded a $3.75 million settlement.
The immigration push also cost money, perhaps more money than the Sheriff’s Office had to spend.
In November 2007, just four months into its fiscal year, MCSO was already more than $1 million over its overtime budget for the year because of its practice of moving personnel around.
One of the solutions reached was to stop taking some jail inmates to their Superior Court hearings — which immediately angered the court’s presiding criminal judge.
Making sure that prisoners get to court is one of the sheriff’s main jobs; defendants are put in jail to make sure they get to court. Not allowing them to go to hearings raises constitutional issues and denies them due process.
But MCSO chiefs claimed they didn’t have enough detention officers to handle the court traffic, until they were reminded by the county supervisors that they had been given money to staff more officers than they had working. Sheriff’s chiefs and officers were dragged into contempt-of-court hearings.
Arpaio also began limiting jail visits by lawyers who were working with clients in custody, triggering another court battle.
Other duties went untended.
It also came to light in 2007 that the office had failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes, 60 percent of which were against minors.
An Arizona Republic series later found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in some cases did not meet basic investigative standards like promptly following up with victims, doing early background checks on suspects, coordinating with other agencies and promptly presenting cases to prosecutors. Then the agency lost track of $600,000 to hire child-abuse investigators, and the money was never found.
Later, Maricopa County finance staff would realize that over eight years, MCSO had misallocated $99.5 million by paying employees out of the wrong accounts and moving money around.
The failure to recognize basic accounting standards — in other words, that accounts are dedicated to specific purposes — launched the biggest political assault of Arpaio’s career.
In 2008, facing a slumping economy, the Board of Supervisors cut the sheriff’s budget.
The sheriff and Thomas responded with the newly formed “Maricopa County’s Anti-Corruption Effort,” also known as MACE.
Suddenly, they were seeing corruption everywhere.
Supervisor Stapley indicted on 118 counts, convicted of none
In December 2008, Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley was indicted on 118 felony and misdemeanor counts arising from omissions on annual financial statements he filed as an elected official.
Stapley did not think the financial statements were the real motive for the charges.
“It was flat-out the budget,” Stapley said, and the charges were payback for the budget cuts, he thought, mostly at the request of Thomas and Hendershott, Arpaio’s chief deputy.
Hendershott took issue with $340 million in cash that had been set aside to build a new Superior Court building, averring that some of that money could be diverted to MCSO.
Working with Thomas, the Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into the court, but Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Gary Donahoe declared a conflict and ordered Thomas off the case.
The animus heated up, with Thomas and MCSO on one side and the county management and Superior Court judges on the other.
In August 2009, sheriff’s deputies seized a county computer system, claiming that the county should not have access to certain law-enforcement data. Both sides sued.
The county yanked funding from Thomas and created its own civil-litigation unit because officials claimed that Thomas could no longer represent the county in court because of the ongoing litigation.
By September 2009, the charges against Stapley had been dismissed after it was discovered that the county had never actually instituted a requirement that supervisors file financial statements. Hendershott had Stapley arrested the next day in a county parking garage, referring him for charges on more than 95 new counts, including allegations of fraud related to campaign funds.
Thomas declined to prosecute, saying the case wasn’t ready.
But three months later, in December 2009, the hammer fell. Stapley was indicted on 22 charges. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a longtime critic of Arpaio, also was indicted on 36 charges alleging impropriety in taking loans from an agency the board had provided with funding. And Judge Donahoe was charged with bribery related to his rulings on the court tower.
Then Arpaio and Thomas filed a civil-racketeering lawsuit in federal court against the Board of Supervisors and several Superior Court judges, including Donahoe, claiming they had conspired against them.
By March 2010, all of the charges and the lawsuits had been dismissed or dropped, triggering a tsunami of litigation.
Stapley’s case was also withdrawn, but Thomas did not give up on it.
He referred it to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores, who concluded that Stapley may have committed fiscal transgressions, some of which might have been minor felonies, but that most of the charges were not crimes.
Furthermore, Flores said that the investigation was so flawed and politically motivated that it could not be pursued.
“The way in which the investigation and prosecution of Stapley progressed was fundamentally wrong, and to pursue further criminal actions against Stapley would be a miscarriage of justice,” Flores wrote.
“The vast record is littered with behavior so egregious that a reasonable person’s sense of fairness, honesty and integrity would be offended. The (Gila County Attorney’s Office) is left with no choice but to decline this matter.”
County officials win settlements of more than $8 million
Supervisors Stapley, Wilcox and Andy Kunasek and Judge Donahoe sued; so did three other judges who had been targeted, several county employees and a business associate of Stapley.
By the time the dust cleared, taxpayers had paid more than $8 million in settlements, and more than $5 million in legal bills, plus another $6 million for other litigation in the cross-fighting.
Thomas and two of his deputy county attorneys were charged with ethics complaints by the State Bar of Arizona for their role in the attacks on judges and elected officials and were called before the Arizona Supreme Court’s disciplinary judge.
Before those hearings, it came out that sheriff’s deputies were tailing the Colorado attorneys who had been retained by the state Bar to investigate and prosecute, and the deputies in turn were tailed by FBI agents.
Thomas and one of his deputies were disbarred; the other was suspended from practicing law for six months.
Hendershott was fired.
But Arpaio came out unscathed.
People in the Sheriff’s and County Attorney’s Offices were subjects of a federal investigation into abuse of power initiated during President George W. Bush’s administration.
The investigation was discontinued in September 2012 by U.S. Attorney for Arizona John Leonardo, who coincidentally had been the Pima County Superior Court judge who dismissed the criminal charges against Wilcox.
In a recent Republic interview with Arpaio, he cited that dismissed investigation as proof that the feds had nothing on him.
But civil-rights lawsuits had already been lodged by the American Civil Liberties Union and by the U.S. Department of Justice over an alleged pattern and practice of racial profiling against Latinos.
Taxpayers would pay the cost.
CHAPTER 6 — Divisive and gregarious
In the thick of controversy, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio maintains a sense of humor and enjoys bantering with the press — even with reporters who have written unfavorable stories about him. Bad press is better than no press, and even negative stories make Arpaio’s supporters rally around him.
He is impulsive, which is, at once, his charm and his liability. He seems to have no filter, no self-censor, whether speaking to a convention or a reporter, a TV camera or a person on the street. He swears readily. He is always defiant.
Arpaio is facing contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop his immigration enforcement polices; hearings resume Sept. 24. The judge appointed a monitor to keep the office in compliance with orders in a federal racial profiling case.
Yet one afternoon, when the subject of his patented pink jail underwear came up, Arpaio turned to me and said, “I even gave a pair to the court monitor.”
“Obviously, it hasn’t helped me any,” he said with a wink and a stagey smile.
Encounters with the sheriff sometimes seem like surreal one-act plays.
I first met him more than 20 years ago, at a north Phoenix department store where he was being fitted for a suit. I introduced myself and asked some long-forgotten reporter’s question.
He looked me in the eyes, scrunched up his face, and out of nowhere, said, “You’re too good-looking to be a reporter.”
It was as if someone had set off flashbulbs in my face. I was stunned and didn’t know how to respond. The conversation ended quickly.
Fast-forward at least 15 years. I was walking under the covered walkway between the two Wells Fargo buildings in downtown Phoenix, where Arpaio used to have his offices.
“Hey Mike, hey Mike,” he called out. “How come you write all those nice stories about Andy Thomas?” referring to the former Maricopa County attorney who was disbarred for his role in prosecuting judges and county officials.
He had told me more than once that he would give me an office in his building if I would write about him.
“They aren’t nice, Sheriff,” I answered.
“I’m Italian,” he said. “You know what nice is for me? I stick the knife in, but I don’t twist it.”
Just then, Chief Deputy David Hendershott lumbered by, looking like he was trying to get through the door without having to talk to Arpaio.
“Dave, you don’t return my calls,” Arpaio said. He walked over to him. Hendershott stood speechless and stared at him. Arpaio started pulling aside the lapels of Hendershott’s sport coat.
“You got your new gun with you?” Arpaio asked Hendershott. “Show Mike your gun.”
“Don’t make him shoot me, Sheriff,” I joked.
“Aw, it would do more damage if I told him to Tase you,” he said.
He has maintained that sense of humor and human engagement over the two decades I have known him and reported about him and his office. It is why he maintains a following despite his many trials.
I was once contacted during the height of the immigration sweeps by a Mexican journalist who wanted to know more about Arpaio before she interviewed him. She intended to write a damning critique of his policies.
She got angry when I told her that regardless of her reporting and her outlook, if she interviewed him, she would end up liking him, at least on an interpersonal level.
Arpaio begins his day early, stays at the office late
Arpaio also has a strong work ethic. He begins his day early and stays in the office late. As a concession to his age, he said, he only gives a speech a day now instead of two. Insiders say he spends the last hours of his workday in his office on his couch thinking or strategizing with his brain trust, cooking up the next defense, the next diversionary tactic, the next press release.
“I’m not planning, I’m doing paperwork,” he counters.
Age does not slow him down.
“If you’re talking about his energy and his mental capacity, I haven’t seen any changes,” said Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan. “He is on the ball about things that are important to him. He can remember things like nobody I have ever met in my life.”
Except perhaps when he is on the witness stand. During the current contempt-of-court proceedings, as in the disciplinary hearings that led to former County Attorney Thomas’ disbarment, Arpaio was suddenly forgetful and couldn’t recall details.
Attorney Michael Manning, who has become a wealthy man representing wrongful-death and civil-rights cases against the Sheriff’s Office, laughs when he recalls the explanation for memory lapses when Arpaio is on the witness stand.
“In all of the cases I’ve had with him in front of a jury,” Manning related, “he said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got the flu.’ ”
On the stand, Arpaio says that he delegates day-to-day management to others. But as Sheridan said, he is on the ball about “things that are important to him” — which have become more eccentric.
His office brushed aside death threats made against attorneys in the Jodi Arias case, but when someone threatened CNN trial maven Nancy Grace, he sent investigators to make an arrest and got a conviction — even though the threat maker was in New York state and the person threatened was in Atlanta.
In his book, “Arpaio: De Facto Lawman,” former MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands wrote that Arpaio does not understand basic concepts like probable cause.
“In reality, Arpaio wasn’t really running anything,” Sands wrote. “He just wasn’t paying attention. Instead he concentrated on running a full-time political campaign throughout his tenure in office,” Sands wrote.
The office was “constant managed chaos and damage control,” he wrote. “If it created controversy, Arpaio enjoyed the media attention.”
Allegation that he doesn’t really like animals stings
Sands claims Arpaio is obsessed with death threats and once made deputies seize a pay phone from which a threat was made and run fingerprint tests on all the coins in the coin box, even though detectives told him it would serve no purpose.
And he likes conspiracies, real or imagined: an improbable plot to kill him, involving the Mexican Zetas, the Minutemen vigilantes on the border, and a Phoenix Hispanic activist, for example, which Arpaio describes in one of his own books. Or conspiracies involving President Barack Obama and the federal government.
In his book, Sands recalls the day when a “tea party” group begged Arpaio to investigate whether Obama was born outside the United States, something Sands thought had already been settled. Arpaio referred to that investigation at the Donald Trump rally in July as if it were still ongoing.
Sands also said that despite Arpaio’s animal posse and well-publicized care of homeless dogs, Arpaio does not really like animals. It is the allegation that seemed to most upset Arpaio during an interview, and he said he did not have dogs because he did not feel it was safe for his wife to walk them because of security risks.
“I have security issues I don’t want to get into,” he said.
But Arpaio has had many lesser leaps of logic over the years that I witnessed.
In 2007, at the time when MCSO stopped bringing jail prisoners to court, ostensibly to save money, Arpaio got called for jury duty, and his publicity people sent out press releases about how the sheriff was going to do his civic duty, just like any other citizen.
Arpaio’s panel was canceled, but he showed up anyway. And his office invited reporters to take advantage of the photo op, ignorant of two facts: You can’t shoot photos in the court hallways, and you can’t photograph jurors.
I walked into the hallway on the seventh floor of the old East Courthouse; I had an office a floor above. I touched Arpaio’s arm as I walked past, and he jumped and didn’t recognize me.
Minutes later, he suddenly noticed me.
“Hey, Mike, hey Mike,” he called to me, and then he chatted about his impending jury service.
I brought up the prisoners who weren’t making it to court, and how that amounted to denying their constitutional right to due process under the law, and Arpaio said it was the first he had heard of it. The next day, the policy seemed corrected, at least for a while.
Arpaio: Respect for those who come here legally
Decisions can seem illogical, though it is difficult to tell if they come from Arpaio or from elsewhere in his office.
In 2007, a court interpreter named Ramon Delgadillo called to tell me that MCSO had instituted a new policy at the jail, requiring naturalized citizens to prove they were citizens.
Delgadillo, a well-respected, 25-year employee of the county, was just going to the jail to do his job, but he was not allowed onto the premises because he did not have his naturalization papers. Naturalized citizens are not required to carry them.
I called Arpaio. He said he was not aware of the policy, though he had ordered that no illegal immigrants would be allowed in the jails to visit anyone. But he bluffed anyway, and said that no one had a constitutional right to go into the jail.
I asked him what papers he had in his wallet that proved that he was a citizen. He thought about it. Then, as we were speaking, he acknowledged that his own parents were naturalized citizens.
The next morning, I got a phone call from Arpaio’s public-information officer, who told me that Arpaio had rescinded the policy. I called him again.
“I do have a deep respect for those who come here legally, like my mother and father who came from Italy, went through the system and became naturalized,” Arpaio said. “I have a deep respect for them. That’s one reason I’m going to change this policy.”
By 2010, the federal government and the federal courts would start changing the rest of his immigration policies.
CHAPTER 7 — At what cost to taxpayers?
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s crusade against illegal immigration launched him from a late-show punchline to a national figure.
Starting in 2005, Arizona was in the vanguard of states looking for local solutions to a national immigration problem. Arpaio was Arizona’s most visible enforcer.
But then, one by one, the state’s immigration laws that had propelled Arpaio into the national spotlight were disassembled by the federal courts.
Most of the provisions in the multilayered and controversial Arizona immigration legislation called Senate Bill 1070, were blocked by a U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix in July 2010, before they could go into effect.
Two years later, the only part that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed back into the law books was a statute allowing police to inquire about the citizenship of people after they were stopped for other reasons.
Later, the concept of charging immigrants as conspirators for smuggling themselves into the country was knocked down, and then the entire “coyote,” or human-smuggling, law was thrown out. So was the law requiring that illegal immigrants arrested on felony charges be held without bond.
“Don’t blame me for that,” Arpaio said. “It was a federal decision.”
Also in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice yanked the 287(g) certification for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office — the program that allowed MCSO to enforce federal immigration law.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s racial-profiling lawsuit was filed in 2007, on behalf of Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist who was in the country legally, but was detained for nine hours as if he were an illegal immigrant.
Other Hispanics who had been arrested during immigration-control operations joined in and it became a class action.
Arpaio meets his match: Judge G. Murray Snow
In 2011, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow ordered Arpaio to stop enforcing federal immigration law.
The case went to trial in 2012, and in May 2013, Snow issued his findings: Arpaio and his staff had reacted to complaints about Mexicans gathering, especially day laborers, and staged their saturation patrols and raids accordingly, Snow found.
The deputies, Snow determined, used race as a major factor in deciding whom to pull over and whom to question. And even after MCSO’s 287(g) authority was revoked, Arpaio still told deputies they could enforce federal immigration law and that being in the country illegally was a crime, instead of what Snow called “an administrative violation of federal immigration law.”
In October 2013, Snow ordered the Sheriff’s Office to cease its immigration-control operations, submit to oversight by a “court monitor,” and update its technology to include cameras and data collection.
Then, a year after the order, Snow brought Arpaio and his chiefs back into court.
Arpaio admitted that he and his deputies had continued to enforce federal immigration law for 18 months after being ordered not to, and that they had failed to turn over video and audio evidence.
The contempt-of-court hearings continued into the spring of this year, when the bombshell dropped.
On April 23, Arpaio was on the witness stand, when Snow suddenly asked him about two stories from Phoenix New Times.
One story claimed that Arpaio had sent a private investigator to look into whether Snow’s wife had told an acquaintance that Snow didn’t like Arpaio and wanted him out of office.
The other story alleged that Arpaio had an investigator in Seattle researching supposed CIA data showing connections and communications between the judge, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and others. Arpaio acknowledged both investigations, but claimed that the information obtained was “junk.”
Arpaio’s lawyers subsequently asked Snow to remove himself from the case; the contempt hearings ground to a halt pending Snow’s decision. The investigations revealed conflicts of interest, they now claimed. And Snow asking about them raised even more conflict, they wrote in their motion.
Then, on July 10, Snow denied the motion and refused to step down. For one thing, he wrote in his order, MCSO and Arpaio had been aware of the supposed conflicts of interest for more than a year and had deemed them unreliable. To bring them up again at this point in the contempt hearings, Snow wrote, was a deliberate delay and an “attempted manipulation.”
Arpaio appealed the ruling.
Sources inside MCSO say that those investigations never really took place, and that things are not what they seem.
The tip that Snow’s wife was bad-mouthing Arpaio at a Tempe restaurant was checked out by a private investigator, and then MCSO lawyers advised the office to just forget about it. It was put aside.
A return of the birther investigator
The bigger stink that Arpaio was investigating links between Snow and the Department of Justice came out of another whimsical undertaking.
Dennis Montgomery, a Seattle-based computer expert who had worked on the birther investigation — that is, Arpaio’s probe into President Barack Obama’s birthplace — told MCSO that he had proof that the federal government was illegally gathering information about American citizens, including many from Maricopa County.
Just as in the birther investigation or the unsuccessful federal lawsuit against Obama’s immigration policies, Arpaio had another chance to defy the president on behalf of the little guy.
But MCSO brass sent deputies to keep Montgomery on task. Myriad e-mails among Montgomery, his lawyer and MCSO supervisors chide Montgomery for dumping data and videos he had gathered from multiple sources, including Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news network. And when the office reached the point that they were going to cut Montgomery loose, he upped the ante and produced a “flowchart” alleging communication among Snow, Holder, a former U.S. attorney for Arizona, and others.
By then, more than $120,000 had been paid to Montgomery, and MCSO’s attorneys and top brass wanted to pull the plug. But the document got out into the light and was unsealed in the court record.
Snow was not convinced. In his ruling, he noted that based on e-mails provided by MCSO, the Montgomery investigation continued up until the “eve” of the contempt hearings.
And he noted that even after denouncing both investigations as “junk,” Arpaio’s lawyers still tried to use them to remove Snow from the case.
Nor does history help the sheriff’s case.
Arpaio clearly has a record of investigating and suing judges who made rulings he did not like.
And it is noteworthy that former MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands, in his book, claims that Arpaio believed that his investigation of Obama’s birthplace would create a conflict with federal authorities that would protect him from legal action.
According to Sands, after launching that apparently ongoing investigation, Arpaio said, “Now let them go after me with this abuse-of-power thing.”
Arpaio denied making the statement.
“I knew it would make it worse for me,” he said.
County officials detail Sheriff’s Office’s legal costs
According to county officials and other sources, Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have been the reason for more than $142 million in payouts for settlements, court awards and attorneys’ fees since Arpaio took office.
The county’s Risk Management Department, which is its self-insurance program, has paid more than $78 million in settlements, awards and litigation since Arpaio took office in 1993. Less than half of that, $30 million, is actually for jail claims, and another nearly $20 million was paid out for traffic accidents, boating accidents and other small claims.
The rest of the risk-management figure, more than $28 million, was paid for legal matters listed as civil-rights violations, false arrest, conspiracy and malicious prosecution, which would include the Dowling, Phoenix New Times and county-wars settlements.
But there’s more.
The county Office of Management and Budget has paid out another $6.2 million for other legal costs of the county wars.
The Department of Justice lawsuit has already cost nearly $5 million. Like the Melendres racial-profiling case, it alleged civil-rights violations and discrimination against Latinos in traffic stops, and the judge on that case accepted the Melendres conclusions to rule that racial profiling indeed took place. That suit also alleged discrimination in the jails and raids on work sites as well. And it addressed Arpaio’s retaliation against the other elected and appointed county officials.
But the county and the Department of Justice settled most of the rest of the case out of court, because Arpaio had already changed the office’s immigration policies (if not his personal opinions), sidestepping more costly litigation.
By next year, the cost of the Melendres case will reach $52.5 million, plus attorney costs to be determined. And Snow is talking about holding another trial to determine compensation for the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.
The county’s running total as of Aug. 31: $142,040,779, of which $91,934,494, nearly two-thirds, is because of Arpaio’s court and political battles.
But those figures only show how much money was paid out by the county. The total legal expenses are actually higher. At times, there were co-defendants in the lawsuits who had to pay a share of a jury award of settlement. And awards over $5 million, like the two wrongful-death cases involving restraint chairs in the jails, were paid by insurance, with the county only paying a deductible of $1 million or $2 million.
Only two of the Maricopa County supervisors criticized Arpaio for the financial cost.
“I personally get the feeling that enough’s enough,” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the board’s lone Democrat, who is in the first year of his first term. “The board is tired of shelling out millions of dollars for things that are not his job. He’s not even doing his job.”
“We have a laundry list of projects and we can’t do them because of the sheriff,” Gallardo said.
Supervisor Andy Kunasek, the only supervisor still in office who was targeted by Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas during the county wars, said, “If, God forbid, I was sheriff, I’d exit now with as much grace as possible, because it’s not going to get any better.”
The other three sitting supervisors were more careful in their remarks.
“As a fiscal conservative, I don’t like having the county spending money on things that we shouldn’t have to pay for,” said County Board Chairman Steve Chucri, before pointing out that Arpaio is an elected official.
The board has no power to remove him, and the county battles of 2008–10 came largely out of the board’s attempt to control Arpaio and Thomas through their budgets. Yet at the same time, the county is responsible for paying Arpaio’s legal expenses, even if it cannot stop the actions that led to lawsuits.
Supervisor Denny Barney raised the same point.
“In my mind, we’ve got the Melendres issue and the DOJ issue, but we’ve got a unique constitutional constraint in this county in that we have an elected sheriff whose budget is set by a board,” Barney said.
To wit: Sheriffs are appointed in many parts of the country. In recent years, sheriffs in Denver and Philadelphia were removed or resigned after high-money legal settlements.
Supervisor Clint Hickman dodged the question.
“I am going to continue to help a relationship that my district has with (Arpaio’s) command staff and his patrol officers.”
Arpaio sees the cost as part of the job.
“When you run a big organization, whether you’re the president of the United States, you will have personnel problems,” he said. “When you run a jail system all these years, and also we run enforcement, when you nail it down, I don’t know if you can say it’s out of line.”
CHAPTER 8 — Win, lose or …?
On June 9, a few days before his 83rd birthday, Joe Arpaio held a party at his headquarters on Jackson Street to celebrate being the longest-serving sheriff in Maricopa County history after 22 1/2 years.
“It’s really emotional to have survived all these years,” he told the adoring audience.
He was presented a giant Stetson cowboy hat with the words “Longest Serving Sheriff in Maricopa County History” on the side, and when they sat it on his head, it came down over his ears.
Then he was handed a Smith & Wesson pistol engraved with the words “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and an image of his sheriff’s badge.
State historian Marshall Trimble, who was making the presentations, then said, “He’s got to have a caballo.”
“Do I have to ride it?” Arpaio asked. “Let’s go and say hello.”
Outside, a brown horse with a white face was waiting. Arpaio held the reins and stroked the horse’s face as the cameras whirred and snapped. Then the fans and admirers gathered to take selfies with America’s Toughest Sheriff. (The horse, incidentally, went home with its real owner that night, not Arpaio. It had been another prop for a photo op.)
A reporter stuck a tape recorder in Arpaio’s face and asked, “What do you think your legacy will be?”
“I don’t know. I’m not dead yet,” he snapped back, before heading back inside to eat cake.
Another day, another protest, another demand for his resignation
A month later, there was a different sort of gathering over Arpaio’s legacy.
In mid-July, a Hispanic activist group called Puente staged a protest asking for Arpaio to resign, marching the eight blocks from the downtown Phoenix Convention Center to the Fourth Avenue Jail.
Arpaio locked the jail down hours before the march even began. Defense attorneys gathered a few blocks away, outside the Office of the Legal Defender and the Office of the Legal Advocate, two of the county’s public-defender agencies, wondering why they could not get into the jail to see their clients. They mostly shook their heads as if this were just another day in Maricopa County.
The march was more than just the usual suspects. Puente organizers took advantage of a gathering of a politically progressive organization called Netroots Nation, which was meeting for its annual conference.
A group of 500 to 600 mostly Anglo and mostly young people stretched for blocks as it marched down Jefferson Street, chanting, “Arrest Arpaio, not the people,” wearing T-shirts that said, “Arpaio-free AZ” or “Adelante (Forward) AFL-CIO.” They carried signs that said, “I have a concentration camp and it’s called Tent City,” and “ICE out of 4th Ave Jail.”
They were flanked by Phoenix police officers in squad cars, on motorcycles and bicycles, and on foot.
When they reached Fourth Avenue, the protesters turned south, where they were met at the jail by fewer than a dozen Arpaio supporters, mostly senior citizens, carrying American flags and holding “We support Arpaio” signs. The marchers circled the block around the jail and then marched on to Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headquarters a few blocks away.
“Once again, it’s to tell Arpaio to resign,” said Carlos Garcia, from Puente. “We’re here to ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement to get out of there and to shut down Tent City and get justice for Arpaio victims.”
MCSO deputies stood quietly in front of Arpaio’s fortress watching the protesters.
Some soul-searching from inside the Sheriff’s Office
Some protest comes from within the Sheriff’s Office.
At a routine morning meeting in March, Arpaio surprised his deputy chiefs by asking them if they thought he should stay in office.
“Should I run for sheriff — for the seventh time?” he asked them.
It was more a declaration than a moment of soul-searching as they sat around the giant oblong conference table in Arpaio’s vast office.
The four deputy chiefs in the room on that March morning agreed that he should stay. Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre recalls answering, “That’s a decision for you and your wife.”
The only person in the room with second thoughts was Public Information Officer Lisa Allen, who thought that the strain would be great on Arpaio and his family, especially because of the media.
Arpaio’s mind was already made up. “Not that it matters what they answer,” he told me.
But a month later, another deputy chief, Brian Lee, began circulating a letter asking Arpaio to either resign or stand down for re-election. No one would sign, and Lee was determined to talk to the sheriff himself to tell him it was time to go.
“He spoke with a number of other chiefs, writing things down. ‘You should think about not running again,’ ” Allen claimed he said. “He did say to the sheriff that he felt it was not in his best interests to run again.”
Lee went to Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan for advice before talking to Arpaio. Sheridan didn’t want to see the letter Lee had prepared, and he told him to temper his remarks.
Arpaio doesn’t remember the conversation going that way.
“He came in when there was a rumor going around,” Arpaio recalls. “He came in to say his opinion.”
The sheriff paused a moment.
“Maybe some people think I should leave, and I understand that,” he said.
But his mind is made up.
“Well, I’m running again,” he told The Arizona Republic a week after his longevity party. “It will be my seventh term.”
He didn’t say that it will be his final term.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m the longest-serving sheriff in the history of Maricopa County.”
“What would be grounds for stepping down?” I asked, and the question befuddled him.
“If I get shot or something. That would be the only thing that might make me not run. I’m running,” he said. “I’m not going to desert this organization.”
He did not think he would be forced to resign if found in contempt of federal court for defying a judge’s order to stop enforcing his immigration policies. His contempt hearing before U.S. district Court G. Murray Snow is scheduled to resume Thursday.
Russell Pearce: ‘He’s doing the job we hired him to do’
Arpaio still has his supporters.
“If a man is competent and is doing what he promised to do and what he’s supposed to do, then that man should stay in office,” said Russell Pearce, a former state senator and long-time Arpaio ally. “Arpaio is not a young man, but he’s competent, and he’s doing the job we hired him to do, so he should run.” He still has supporters.
But his popularity is fading. According to a Rocky Mountain Poll this March, the share of people polled who believe Arpaio is doing a good job had fallen to 38 percent. He won the 2012 general election with just 50.7 percent of the vote.
“I think (Arpaio) is vulnerable,” pollster Earl DeBerge said.
And the number of naysayers is growing.
His former self-proclaimed “attack dog,” attorney Dennis Wilenchik, who defended the Sheriff’s Office in the early days of the county battles, said he thinks Arpaio has overstayed his welcome.
“He’s old. He’s not a bad guy personally, but it’s time to go. He’s an embarrassment to the state,” Wilenchik said.
“His ego has gotten so big that even at his toughest time in his career, I don’t think he knows how to back down, how to see he’s wrong. I think we’re seeing the beginning of the end,” Supervisor Steve Gallardo said.
Arpaio’s friend, the public-relations guru Jason Rose, agrees with Gallardo to an extent.
“It’s the exception not the rule that elected officials go out on their own terms. There’s a statute of limitations on electability,” Rose said. “Knowing the sheriff like I do, saying ‘I’m sorry’ and admitting things might be the toughest professional thing he’ll ever do.”
Rose points out that Arpaio’s enormous campaign war chest may once again save him at the polls. But his advice is to apologize for past mistakes.
“Stare right into the camera and speak directly to the people,” Rose said. “Show a little more humility and a little less hubris, and it might go a long way for him.”
Even Arpaio’s biographer, Len Sherman, wonders if reckoning day is coming for Arpaio.
“You reap what you sow,” Sherman said. “If you’re going to do things the way you want, you might pay the consequences.”
Sherman didn’t think that would happen when he wrote the preface of Arpaio’s second book, Joe’s Law.
“We quickly tire of our heroes, probably because they’re not really heroes at all. They appear, they glitter, they are everywhere, and then we learn the truth that they are nothing but false fronts … (T)hey’re all part of the same media world we inhabit — and they’ve all disappointed us so many times that poll after poll demonstrates that we no longer trust any of our leading institutions.
“And so to Joe Arpaio.”
How we did the story
(Tom Tingle/The Republic)
Arizona Republic justice reporter Michael Kiefer did more than three dozen interviews over the past six months and read three books about Arpaio to report on this series.
Since 2003, Kiefer has written more than 320 articles that included Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He has known Arpaio for more than 20 years.
Some of this story is based on Kiefer’s interactions with the sheriff.
Kiefer is a senior reporter who has covered courts, justice and Maricopa County government issues for The Republic since 2003. He was part of a team that won The Sidney Hillman Award and Best in the West for coverage of the surge of immigrant children and mothers from Central America. He previously worked for the Phoenix New Times.
How to reach him: