AG to watch over Mesa sweeps by Arpaio - East Valley Tribune: News

AG to watch over Mesa sweeps by Arpaio

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Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 9:10 pm | Updated: 9:48 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The state's top prosecutor plans to send special investigators to Mesa Thursday to watch over Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps, and the U.S. Justice Department has shown interest in having representatives there, too.

VIDEO: Mesa Police Chief Gascón talks about Sheriff Arpaio's sweeps

The state's top prosecutor plans to send special investigators to Mesa Thursday to watch over Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps, and the U.S. Justice Department has shown interest in having representatives there, too.

Sheriff Arpaio plans to sweep Mesa on Thursday

Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said Wednesday he was contacted by both departments in recent days, and both told him they wanted to have people on hand as the sweeps go down.

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A spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard confirmed his office would have "sworn peace officers" from its special investigative unit on hand, though she would not say how many.

"Our concern is that we want to ensure peace is maintained," said Andrea Esquer, Goddard's spokeswoman.

The decision was based on a conversation Goddard and Gascón had earlier this week, she said, though the investigators were not going to investigate anything, per se.

Instead, they will be at the sweeps specifically to "assist the Mesa Police Department," Esquer said. She declined to comment on whether the officers would also help Maricopa County sheriff's deputies in conducting the controversial sweeps.

Gascón said the Justice Department also asked for his help to arrange for a regional director from its Community Relations Service to be on-site today.

No one from the Justice Department could be reached for comment, but the department's Web site says the division specializes in helping to stem "serious racial and ethnic conflicts."

In the past, the division has created task forces to monitor racial tensions, including the increase of anti-Arab hate crimes after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and recent reports of nooses being displayed throughout the country.

"I think they have a generalized interest," Gascón said.

The sweeps are tentatively scheduled for 3 p.m. at the county's Mesa station, near Mesa Drive and Baseline Road, Gascón said.

"(Arpaio) indicated that if there were too many demonstrators against them, then they might move it somewhere else," Gascón said.

In a meeting with the Tribune, Gascón said his commander had set up an appointment Wednesday with a sheriff's lieutenant to discuss a plan to work together. The lieutenant, though, never appeared.

Arpaio and his deputy chief, Brian Sands, called the incident a "lack of communication," and Sands said he personally spoke with Mesa assistant chief John Meza to give him details on the sweeps.

Gascón said if the agencies work together it will be a "tremendous advantage" and help minimize any impact on businesses, residents and traffic.

Also, Gascón said the sheriff's previous sweeps -- conducted in early April in Guadalupe and earlier this year in Phoenix -- brought out large numbers of people and increased tensions. Some brought guns and spewed hateful words, he said.

One pro-immigrant group told Gascón its members plan to bring not only demonstrators to the sweeps, but soundstages, too.

Immigrant rights activist and radio talk show host Elias Bermudez told people to show up at the sheriff's Mesa station for protests, but he added he was only guessing where the sweeps would begin.

"We're going to go wherever he's at," Bermudez said of Arpaio. "We're going to pursue him all day."

He also said he was recruiting volunteers to "cruise" Mesa streets in efforts to get stopped by deputies. If the occasion comes up, some activists may try to stand in front of patrol cars. "We're not going to be nice anymore," Bermudez said.

"This is war. And it's not a war that we have provoked. It is a war that he provoked."

Gascón has promised to do everything possible to protect residents' civil rights.

"We are responsible for the civil rights of our citizens ... but we are not responsible for policing the police," Gascón said.

Sands said the sheriff's office tried to keep details of the sweeps secret until the last moment to avoid attracting a large number of protesters.

"We have not asked for the Mesa police to assist us," Sands said. "We are conducting lawful enforcement duties in Maricopa County."

The sheriff said he has cooperated fully with Gascón, keeping him informed as promised.

"Why didn't he just call me and say 'Are you coming in or not?' He wants to make as much controversy as possible," Arpaio said.

Sands and Arpaio both said the operations have gone smoothly in the past without large numbers of police officers turning out.

When Arpaio first announced he would move his sweeps into Mesa, Gascón said he feared of possible civil unrest. He organized officers to respond in an hour's notice for any problems and ordered them to carry their riot gear.

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