The Toughest Sheriff in America
People all over the world know of the sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. It’s Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “Toughest Sheriff in America”. As a resident of Maricopa County for a bunch of years, I remain more convinced of Joe’s foibles than his toughness, as is the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division currently investigating Joe and his crew for civil rights violations, specifically allegations of racial profiling and civil rights violations. Joe’s office stalled the feds for nearly a year and a half, refusing to turn over records to investigators, taking a tough stance so to speak. A recent flurry of activity and proclamations by Joe’s law dogs of cooperation with the investigators is now over and the investigation continues after the feds divulged what they felt were the facts behind the allegations they had found support for.
My personal dealings with ANY deputy of Maricopa County or any other county in Arizona have been professional and respectful, I have no complaint with any of them based on my experience. I’ve seen them go above and beyond the call of duty and have a lot of respect for the men and women who do their job patrolling a huge area, there is still a lot of “Wild West” out here.
Joe, by the way, has the unwavering support of enough of the citizens of Maricopa County to nearly guarantee him an election win whenever he decides to run. Of course, any election with or without Joe might have issues as in 2010 when the Arpaio campaign against a county attorney he didn’t like (Joe wasn’t even running for office) was fined $154,000 for violating campaign finance laws and using his office for political means. Joe eventually only paid $76,000 and didn’t admit wrongdoing. Maybe he’s the toughest sheriff because of his plea bargaining toughness?
In an earlier election, 2004, Joe was running against Dan Saban in the Republican primary. There were scattered Saban for Sheriff signs in enough neighborhoods to make Joe nervous, apparently, so he assigned his right hand man Dave Hendershott to see what he could dig up on Dan. As an aside, Hendershott has taken quite a number of bullets for Joe, he had been a faithful consigliere for many years. Had been, you say? Yes, Dave finally got fired for the last time in April, 2011, partly for some questionable dealings with local developer and bankruptcy expert Steve Ellman. Click here to read a story about it if you like. Anyway, Hendershott sent some troops down to Pinal County to investigate some old allegations against Saban, allegations that Saban had raped his adoptive mother. Ouch, Dan, you shouldn’t be sheriff! Turns out that the statute of limitations had run out, however, yet Hendershott made sure that the allegations were broadcast to the salacious story loving media. It also turns out that Saban, 17 at the time of the incident, claimed he was the victim of statutory rape. Didn’t make any difference, the damage was done and Joe was the Republican candidate for sheriff.
Joe is famous for providing colorful pink underwear and colorful green bologna to his prisoners, particularly the ones in the famous Tent CIty jail and the nearly equally famous chain gangs we have all see so often on our televisions. Ask for a tour, if you have a microphone and a camera you’re in.
Certainly enough people have died in Joe’s jails under suspicious circumstances to warrant his rep as a tough guy, although we citizens of his county have often been required to pay his legal bills and fines to help bolster Joe’s street cred. The local Phoenix paper found, between1998 and 2009, that the county had paid $13 million in legal fees, settlements and jury verdicts to inmates and their families for injury and death claims. Not included in that is another $1 million (November, 2011) payment to the family of Juan Mendoza (yes, there seems to be a pattern of ethnicity, according the the feds) who dies after a physical confrontation with Joe’s deputies in jail.
Now, I am not naive enough to believe that people in jail are angels who don’t thrive on aggressiveness, confrontation and physical violence. I know that many of them do, and I know that many of them goad and bait anyone in a postion of authority. Of course, my opinion is that being “in control” means exactly that. Having Joe Arpaio dismiss the above $1 million payment as “the cost of doing business” is a perfect indicator of his attitude and style of leadership. There is actually some truth in his statement, of course, some cases are, financially, better resolved out of court and out of the press. Some allegations are completely false and probably rigged, just a lowlife going after the deep pockets of a government agency with some historical weaknesses. However, the constant barrage of these negative statements directed at Joe and his boys attracted the attention of the federal government and their dogs of war.
Tough luck, sex crimes victims
At the end of 2011, stories resurfaced about Maricopa County deputies failing to investigate or rudimentarily investigating more than 400 sex crime cases between 2005 and 2007. While Dan Saban’s case OUTSIDE the county received attention from the same deputies, an astounding number of sex crime cases, including molested children cases, went mostly ignored by Sheriff Joe and his crew. The most disturbing quote I saw while this was in the national news was in the New York Times:
One young woman said her cousin has tried with no success to get deputies to investigate the molestation of her three daughters. “The person who did it is still out there,” she said. “We see him all the time.”
Joe has weathered a lot of heat like this before, usually shrugging it off successfully to his constituents with bravado and dismissive quotes. This time, though, eventually he calculated that he needed to apologize to the victims, calling a press conference to do so and promising to make sure his deputies (at least the ones not assigned to dig up dirt on opponents) would do a better job from now on.
Most people didn’t believe Joe, and his smirking press conference didn’t completely bail him out of the mess prompting even staunch and exasperated apologists for Joe Arpaio Jon Kyl and John McCain to issue a joint statement of gentle rebuke.
There are many thousands of words to be written about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his entourage and his dealings. Maricopa County is in the difficult geographic position of being at the crossroads of a tremendous amount of illegal immigration traffic and everything that goes along with it. The elected job of sheriff of this county is NOT an easy job. Whether doing that job requires the constant search for media attention is debatable.
So who is the new guy?
Remember Pinal County, where Joe sent henchman Hendershott to investigate sexual crime allegations involving a political foe? That’s the county where the new guy, Paul Babeu, is in charge.
Babeu is the first Republical elected sheriff in Pinal County, having defeated his Democrat opponent in 2008. Paul was asked by Sheriff Joe to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing in the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office (MCSO) which, six months later, resulted in the aforementioned dismissal of Hendershott and another MCSO employee.
Babeu came through on his promise to rid his county of speed cameras, streamlined his office and purportedly reduced response times in his county by forty percent. He should also be considered a media hound of nearly Arpaio proportions, having made a national face for himself with tough border control talk and a national spot with Senator John McCain. He also helped Sens. McCain and Kyl draft their “10-Point Border Security Plan.”
Sheriff Babeu is now running for Congress in his district.
Sheriff Babeu is also gay.
So what if he is gay?
Sheriff Babeu, having cultivated a following of extremely conservative supporters, is likely to run into some roadblocks to his future success in politics. Most of these roadblocks will be invisible, but they will be there and the end result will be the same.
Apparently there have been whisperings and winks for years about Sheriff Babeu’s sexual orientation. Perhaps he decided that, as a law officer rather than a politician, it wasn’t wise to divulge the information. Really, it isn’t anybody’s business, is it? No, it is NOT.
The sensationalist story, broken by the Phoenix New Times (click here to read) was as much about the alleged threats made against an ex-lover of Babeu’s, called “Jose”, as it was about Babeu’s sexual orientation by itself. The New Times, by the way, would be easily dismissed by many as a crackpot leftist pinko rag with a lot of axes to grind. Some of that is true, they make no bones of their political leanings, yet they have been show to be a credible source of real news. Whether they are in THIS case remains to be seen.
It’s those allegations, not Babeu’s sexual orientation, that are the only things that matter. It’s possible to question the judgment of the man in some of his public displays of questionable images of himself and his relationship with a man who may or may not be a documented alien but who is certainly Mexican. The voters can decide that for themselves.
So what’s the problem?
The irony of his situation isn’t lost on anybody, the man who would be the poster boy for tough immigration policies admittedly involved with a Mexican man who, allegedly alleged by Babeu’s lawyer, could be deported back to Mexico. The question that, when answered, should determine fate of Sheriff Babeu is whether he used his position and his influence as a man with a reputation as a border enforcement bulldog to intimidate an ex-lover who happens to be a citizen of another country.
If he did, he should pay the price.
If he didn’t, everybody should just shut up and get back to having Sheriff Joe as their media go-to guy.