The Thin Blue Whine: The Crybaby Thugs of Maricopa County
by William Norman Grigg
by William Norman Grigg
Recently by William Norman Grigg: The Thin Blue Whine: Petulant Police Demand Impunity
To his comrades in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), Adam Stoddard is a martyr to principle and an innocent victim of injustice — a heroic figure unjustly consigned to prison by petty, power-hungry figures. His boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, went so far as to describe Stoddard as a "political prisoner" during his brief and uncommonly comfortable incarceration.
All of this, predictably enough, is nothing but several acres of stockyard carpeting.
Stoddard, a member of the MCSO's correctional unit, was videotaped stealing a document from the desk of a defense attorney. As a result he spent several days in the custody of his co-workers after being cited for contempt of court by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe for refusing to apologize for his offense.
It's important to recognize that Stoddard — unlike many others who have been cited for contempt — actually committed an offense against an individual's rights.
Stoddard claimed to have seen something on the handwritten documents that constituted a threat to "court security" — some cryptic conjunction of the words "going to" "steal" and "money," which apparently weren't part of the same sentence.
In addition to his unusual ability to divine the concealed intentions of criminal defendants from words randomly scattered across a page of notes hand-written by somebody else, Deputy Stoddard apparently possesses some form of X-ray vision, since the document he stole was concealed by several on top of it.
Obviously, Stoddard is no ordinary deputy; he must be the Last Son of Krypton, concealing his true identity in the guise of a mild-mannered bailiff.
In his ruling he correctly observed that Stoddard's actions were "unreasonable and unlawful" and resulted in a breach of attorney-client privilege, and that Stoddard's facially ridiculous explanation — which implicitly accused defense counsel Joanne Cuccia of collaboration in a crime — injured the attorney's professional reputation.
Had a mere mundane committed an offense similar to Stoddard's, the penalty would have involved some combination of a fine and mandatory jail time. However, Judge Donahoe — perhaps mindful of the need to maintain cordial relations with the brown-shirted paladins of public order who carry out his decrees — didn't send Stoddard immediately to jail, or slap him with a fine. Instead, he ordered Stoddard to apologize, in public, to defense attorney Cuccia.
While there were problems with this proposed compromise, it would have spared Stoddard from spending time behind bars by treating his offense as a mistake, rather than a crime. One could round down to "never" the frequency that common people are offered such consideration by the courts.
But Stoddard's actions weren't a mistake. They were the predictable product of the institutional culture of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Under the reign of the oleaginous proto-fascist Joe Arpaio, the MCSO has mutated into a lawless armed clique suitable to a third-world dictatorship. Indeed, Arpaio and his minions — including a contingent called the "Special Enforcement Unit" — have conducted late-night or early-morning raids to intimidate and imprison people who have criticized the Dear Leader.
The controversy involving Adam Stoddard came amid an escalating conflict between Arpaio and his critics in Maricopa County.
With the support of his Dear Leader — who insisted that his deputies only follow his orders, not those of a mere judge — Stoddard defied the court order, telling a press conference that he wouldn't apologize "for doing my job," and that saying he is sorry would be a "lie."
"Judge Donahoe has ordered me to feel something I do not and say something I cannot," simpered Deputy Stoddard in his pre-incarceration press conference. But the same can truthfully be said by countless innocent people who have been put through the indignity of the "justice" system — from those found guilty of traffic violations on the fraudulent, self-interested testimony of traffic cops, to people who have been blackmailed into accepting plea bargains by devious, unprincipled prosecutors.
In this case, of course, Stoddard had neither facts nor the law on his side — just a sense of limitless privilege and a petulant frustration that Judge Donahoe refused to accept his puerile fictions. Following his Drama Queen turn in front of the press, Stoddard checked in to the Maricopa County Jail system.
With a finely tuned sense of self-promotion and unhindered by even a rudimentary sense of decency, Arpaio has used his jail system to build a reputation as "America's Toughest Sheriff" by subjecting those incarcerated therein — most of whom have never been convicted of an actual offense — to a steady stream of petty indignities.
Male prisoners are required to wear pink underwear; until a lawsuit ended the practice, female detainees were under constant video surveillance, including hidden cameras in the toilet facilities. Inmates are fed green bologna and forced to work in chain gangs. Many are housed in surplus military tents that offer little effective shelter from the elements. After several people charged with non-violent offenses died of culpable abuse or neglect while in Arpaio's custody, the county was forced to pay millions of dollars in legal settlements.
As one of Arpaio's brown-shirted cadres, Adam Stoddard endured none of those indignities. Citing supposed "security" concerns — "security" being the familiar, all-purpose defense of dictators everywhere — Arpaio refused to say exactly where Stoddard was being held. If he actually spent time behind bars it was most likely as a guest in a special, detainee-friendly facility referred to as the "Mesa Hilton." Another possibility is that Stoddard simply enjoyed a paid vacation under "house arrest" or in similarly comfortable circumstances.
To hear Stoddard's brown-shirted comrades tell the story, however, the deputy was a modern Sir Walter Raleigh, unjustly immured in the Tower of London awaiting his grim appointment with the Headsman. Accordingly, on the morning after Stoddard was taken to "jail," twenty intrepid, public-spirited MCSO deputies suddenly called in "sick," thereby throwing the Superior Court into disarray.
Things got even nastier when an anonymous bomb threat was called in — the first of two that would occur, along with an incident of vandalism involving pepper-spray, during Stoddard's detention. Significantly, no similar acts occurred after Stoddard's vacation-cum-jail sentence ended.
This illegal work stoppage (assuming we can torture the word "work" into describing what the MCSO does) amounted to a criminal conspiracy against the rights of those whose legal hearings were delayed. The bomb threats and pepper spray attack would be investigated as acts of terrorism had they been carried out by common citizens in support of a detainee. But the police union thugs who demanded that Stoddard be released from jail and have his record cleared acted in the serene confidence that they confronted neither personal nor professional consequences.
Maricopa County Deputy Sean Pearce, speaking on behalf of the Deputies Law Enforcement Association, didn't flinch from describing the "sick-out" as a show of support for Stoddard: "I think it sends out a message that this officer has integrity," Pearce insisted. "Why should he apologize for doing his job?"
The "job" in question, as defined by Pearce and his colleagues, includes stealing proprietary information, violating attorney-client confidentiality, lying about one's actions, and defying an order to make restitution to the victim.
But Deputy Stoddard is one of the sacred personages who wear a government-issued costume and is invested with the supposed authority to kill other human beings. It's just not right for members of that privileged elite to be treated like mere mundanes. Hence the collective tantrum thrown by Stoddard's fellow tax-feeders — and a serious escalation in Arpaio's unprecedented war on his critics.
As the Los Angeles Times summarizes:
"[Arpaio] recently filed a racketeering lawsuit against the entire Maricopa County power structure.... Last year, when Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon called for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration enforcement, the Sheriff's Office demanded to see Gordon's e-mails, phone logs and appointment calendars. When the police chief in one suburb complained about the [immigration] sweeps [carried out by Arpaio's office], Arpaio's deputies raided that town's City Hall. [There have been] two dozen instances of the sheriff launching investigations of critics, none of which led to convictions. The most notorious case involves county Supervisor Don Stapley, a Republican who has sometimes disagreed with Arpaio's immigration tactics. Last December, deputies arrested Stapley on charges of failing to disclose business interests properly on his statement of economic interest."
In filing that charge against Stapley, Arpaio — motes-and-beams fashion — was using the power of his office to misdirect attention from his own misrepresentations in financial disclosure reports, which — if he and Stapley were treated alike — would result in more than a dozen criminal counts against the sheriff.
Instead of facing an investigation for his own irregularities, Arpaio — with the aid of the similarly megalomaniacal Maricopa County prosecutor, Andrew Thomas — attempted to prosecute and imprison the people who had brought those irregularities to light: The reporters and editorial staff of the independent Phoenix New Times newspaper.
In August 2007, the Maricopa County Prosecutor's Office hit the Phoenix New Times with a grand jury subpoena demanding detailed information, including "Every note, tape, and record from every story written about Sheriff Arpaio by every reporter over a period of years" as well as "detailed information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since 2004" as well as every individual "individual who looked at any story, review, listing, classified, or retail ad [in the publication] over a period of years."
The pretext for that act of official harassment was that the New Times, in investigating Arpaio's conflicts of interest regarding ownership of commercial properties, had violated state law by disclosing the valiant sheriff's home address.
To their credit, the editorial staff of the New Times went public with the details of that Grand Jury subpoena. That prompted Arpaio to send his Selective Enforcement Unit to arrest Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the owners of the Phoenix New Times on a spurious charge of interfering with the deliberations of a grand jury.
The joint assault by Arpaio and Thomas on freedom of speech and the press provoked a nation-wide paroxysm of outrage that forced Thomas to free Lacey and Larkin and withdraw the charges against them. (It was later revealed that no grand jury had actually been empaneled.)
Following Stoddard's "incarceration," Arpaio's Enemies List expanded to include Judge Gary Donahoe. County Prosecutor Thomas filed a criminal complaint against Donahoe accusing him of three felonies: Hindering prosecution, obstruction of a criminal investigation, and bribery. In a press conference called to elucidate the charges against Donahoe, Thomas found it impossible to describe a coherent theory of the case. But building a prosecutable case isn't the point in what is a transparent act of retaliation against the judge who sent one of Arpaio's Brownshirts to jail.
Arpaio and Thomas appear to believe — or at least want the public to believe — that they alone are untainted by the otherwise ubiquitous political corruption festering in Maricopa County. To that end they have filed a complaint against the entire County government under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, an action that effectively designates the board of county supervisors a criminal syndicate.
With Arpaio dispatching heavily armed jackboots to intimidate and arrest his critics, and Thomas at his back prepared to mount spurious prosecutions when necessary, Maricopa County has descended into what the Goldwater Institute calls a state of "open warfare" among elected officials.
Arpaio is clearly willing to see the entire county government demolished, as long as he can erect a throne on the rubble.
"It's just extraordinary, the kind of thing that takes place in Third-World dictatorships," observes former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who is representing Donald Stapley. "So many people are of one mind on a single issue — illegal immigration — that they are willing to ignore [Arpaio's] misdeeds."
Arpaio was actually seen by some as a liberal regarding illegal immigration prior to 2005. That year saw two critical changes: First, Arpaio re-cast himself as a crusader for border security, and second, he received a federal 287(g) waiver empowering his deputies to enforce federal immigration laws.
Since then, Arpaio has turned Maricopa County into a literal police state in which anybody who "looks" or "sounds" like an illegal immigrant — including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents of Mexican ancestry — can be summarily arrested and detained. While Arpaio's deputies — who often conduct their raids wearing ski masks — are focusing their attention on people whose sole offense is to work in Arizona without official permission, more than 70,000 criminal warrants, many of which deal with actual offenses against persons and property, have been left unenforced.
Maricopa County under the reign of Arpaio has become a community in which a mother can be seized from her car at gunpoint by goons in ski masks while her children shriek in terror. In Arpaio's realm, a woman nine months pregnant can be hauled away to jail in handcuffs and leg irons on minor, non-violent charges, forced to deliver her child while chained to a hospital bed, and then kept separated from her newborn for more than two months — because she is suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
Earlier this year the federal government formally revoked the "authority" provided by the 287(g) waiver and instructed Arpaio that he could no longer use his personnel to enforce federal immigration laws.
The following day, Arpaio conducted one of his notorious "immigration sweeps," an exercise in which deputies "descend on heavily Latino neighborhoods, arrest hundreds of people for violations as minor as a busted headlight and ask them whether they are in the country legally," reported the Los Angeles Times.
"I wanted to show everybody it didn't make a difference," explained Arpaio — quite redundantly, as it happened, for those who have come to understand that the Mussolini of Maricopa County answers only to himself.
A few years ago, in an essay that eventually cost me my job, I warned that the issue of illegal immigration was being exploited by the Regime to consolidate police state powers at both the federal and local levels. My colleagues at the time were of the opinion (candidly expressed by one of them in an e-mail) that it would be acceptable for the U.S. to become a police state within "secure" borders. I wasn't willing to settle for that arrangement, a microcosm of which is being created in Maricopa County under Arpaio.
The slice of the public most obsessed over the issue of illegal immigration — what I've referred to as the "punitive populist" element of the Republican coalition — seemed to think it would be possible to expand federal police power selectively: The Regime would build a border fence, dispatch armed enforcement agents to roust people from workplaces, impose new bureaucratic impositions on struggling businesses and new restrictions on travel — but all of this would target only the "illegals" without threatening the rights of the rest of us.
But to paraphrase Edmund Burke, police-state methods, once tolerated, are soon institutionalized. What do we gain if every illegal immigrant is sent home — and we end up living under a near-replica of the third-world dictatorships those people had fled?
Joe Arpaio is the law enforcement equivalent of the geologic formation called a "terminal moraine" — a huge mound of accreted debris piled up through the advance of a glacier. A core sample of Arpaio's decades-long enforcement career would reveal layer upon layer of thuggish presumption, facile corruption, contempt for the Constitution, and indifference to any consideration other than his privileged status.
Arpaio is chiefly a problem for the county that has repeatedly voted him into office since 1992. But the tactics he is employing to retain his position might well engender mimicry in other counties as budgets tighten and political conflicts over dwindling tax revenues grow acute.
With the Feds pouring money and military equipment into "local" law enforcement departments nation-wide, Arpaio's literal war against Maricopa County's political leadership may eventually provide a template for similar putsches elsewhere.
December 17, 2009
Copyright © 2009 William Norman Grigg