Maricpa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a popular guy with the voters. He's on his fourth term as Sheriff. He's achieved impressive popularity by building his brand as "America's Toughest Sheriff" — which has mostly meant doing crowd-pleasing talk-radio-rhetoric things like making jail inmates live in tent cities in the Arizona heat (and then telling them they have it better than soldiers in Iraq), making them wear pink underwear, slashing their food budget, limiting them to G-rated movies, and bringing back chain gangs. If you can imagine Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage suggesting that something be done to inmates to show how tough on crime we are, Joe Arpaio has probably done it and crowed about it.
But if you live there, whatever you do, don't criticize him.
That's because Sheriff Joe Arpaio — for all of his enthusiasm for the rule of law when it means putting the boot in the ass of n'er-do-wells — doesn't have much respect for it when it comes to the right of people to dissent from his methods.
Arpaio's most recent foray into suppression came when Phil Gordon, the Mayor of Phoenix, criticized the Sheriff's "crime suppression sweeps" in predominantly Hispanic areas, which seemed aimed less at suppressing crime and more at rounding up suspected illegal immigrants. Arpaio did not care for the Mayor's critique, so he fired back. But he didn't fire back with words. He fired back by having a group of his Internal Affairs deputies — which he refers to as his "Internal Security" — filed public records requests for the Mayor's emails and calendar:
On April 24, four weeks after Gordon's widely publicized denunciation of the sheriff at a César Chávez luncheon, sheriff's deputies fired off a public-records request seeking the mayor's e-mails, cell phone records, and meeting calendar.
The letter also demands e-mail correspondence for Police Chief Jack Harris, City Manager Frank Fairbanks, and all of Gordon's administrative staff. In all, the sheriff's investigators are seeking every single e-mail written by more than a dozen Phoenix staffers, from November to the date of the sheriff's demand.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio apparently claims he's seeking these documents for an internal investigation of racial profiling within his department. That claim is highly questionable, given the breadth of the requests and the fact that Arpaio has a history of using the powers of his office against political enemies, according to local journalists. Some examples:
• Sheriff's Office employees who've spoken out have endured slanted investigations from the sheriff's internal affairs unit, been transferred or fired, and sometimes been harassed at their new jobs.
• At least two men, Tom Bearup and Ernest Hancock, were tailed after they announced their interest in Arpaio's job. Arpaio's second-in-command, David Hendershott, targeted Bearup as a threat to the sheriff. Hendershott even ordered an underling to write a memo that painted Bearup, the sheriff's former top deputy, as a security risk.
• Deputies tapped the phone of Bearup's campaign aide, Jim Cozzolino. Deputies also rifled through his trash. Cozzolino was later arrested under dubious circumstances and served four months in jail. Cozzolino sued, claiming that Arpaio violated his constitutional rights. The sheriff was forced to settle.
• Republican activists say they've been penalized for backing candidates other than Arpaio. After Lee Watkins backed another candidate, deputies raided his business and home and launched a public investigation. Three years later, no charges have been filed.
• Arpaio's most recent foe, Dan Saban, was painted as a sexual deviant when Arpaio's people slipped a damaging report from a questionable source to a TV reporter. After Saban sued, the sheriff's lawyer wrote letters attempting to get Saban fired from his current job.
In a few deep-blue cities in America, this sort of stuff would get you tossed out on your ass. But the deep, dark secret of America is this: there are plenty of people who don't give a shit about this sort of thing — about the niceties of the rule of law — so long as you talk big about being tough on crime and give the people a good show. In most places in America, you'll never get voted out of office for treating suspects or defendants badly in public.
That's why the best hope for getting rid of Sherrif Joe Arpaio is probably not a recall or running against him. The best hope is a grand jury investigation for public corruption by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona. That will have to wait. The chances of a U.S. Attorney's office investigating "America's Toughest Sheriff" under this administration is, I suspect, close to nil.