Robert Parrish was an open supporter of Dan Saban in his bid to oust Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year. Though he did not show his preference on duty, Parrish did paste Saban bumper stickers on his personal cars.
Parrish was a captain in the sheriff’s office, in charge of the coveted unit that patrols the county’s lakes and rivers. Last November, just weeks after Arpaio won re-election, Parrish was transferred, put in charge of booking inmates into the county jails. It is one of the least desired assignments in the sheriff’s office.
Parrish was not alone. Almost all of those who openly backed Saban, a career Mesa police commander who challenged Arpaio in the Republican primary, found themselves filling some of the least sought-after jobs in the sheriff’s office after the November general election, an extensive review of public records by the Tribune has found.
Those who worked to reelect the sheriff moved into more prized positions. A halfdozen of the sheriff’s staunchest backers in the ranks of sworn officers were promoted shortly after the election, county records show. Three others were promoted in April 2004 after either giving money to Arpaio’s campaign or filing nominating petitions on his behalf. One was promoted earlier this month.
No one who donated to Saban’s campaign was promoted after making their contributions.
Arpaio refused repeated requests for an interview.
Jack MacIntyre, director of intergovernmental relations for the sheriff, said Arpaio deferred to his command staff for comment. While Arpaio approved of the overall restructuring, specific transfer decisions were left to his staff, MacIntyre said.
Larry Black, chief of enforcement for the sheriff’s office, said he drew up the transfer list for sworn officers and that politics played no role. Black said he never checked the list of donors to either the Arpaio or Saban campaigns.
"There is no correlation one way or another," Black said of the transfers and promotions of those who were active in the campaign. "You are giving us far more credit for being devious. It’s ridiculous."
More than 300 sheriff ’s officers were transferred on Nov. 22, three weeks after the general election. About 140 of those were sworn peace officers and supervisors. That is about a fourth of the sheriff’s sworn staff. The rest were corrections officers in the county jails.
Such mass transfers are virtually unheard of among other law enforcement agencies surveyed by the Tribune, including those in major East Valley cities, Phoenix, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in Tucson.
Several Maricopa County officers told the Tribune they believe the deputies were sent to less desirable jobs because of their support for Saban. None would agree to be quoted for this story, with several citing fear of retaliation. Parrish, who retired this month after 22 years with the sheriff ’s office, also would not comment.
An analysis of the transfers of sworn officers by the Tribune shows deputies who backed Saban, Arpaio’s rival in the Republican primary last September, were moved to such jobs as transporting prisoners or standing watch in courtrooms. After receiving complaints from deputies, the Tribune analyzed transfer and promotion lists, personnel records of key sworn officers, and campaign documents related to both the Saban and Arpaio campaigns.
Among the sheriff’s officers who openly supported Saban:
• Sgt. Mike McGhee, who gave $100 to the Saban campaign, was transferred from patrol to the property room, then moved to a training unit. Black said McGhee was transferred sometime before November.
• Sgt. Jerry Bruen, who gave $350 to Saban, was transferred out of the detective bureau to patrol.
• Sgt. Craig Thatcher, who gave $350 to Saban, was transferred from patrol to the special enforcement division, where he was put in charge of taking telephone reports on minor crimes.
• Deputy Clinton Doyle, who gave $350 to Saban, was transferred from patrol to court security.
• Deputy David Parra, who gave $120 to Saban, was transferred from patrol to court security.
• Deputy Tehran Ryles, who gave $100 to Saban, was moved from patrol to court security.
• Deputy Christopher Pittmann, who gave $100 to Saban, remained in patrol. However, his wife, also a sheriff’s deputy, was passed over for promotion to sergeant. Jennifer Pittmann ranked higher on the promotion list than Aaron Brown, the deputy promoted in November, who gave $100 to the Arpaio campaign.
One donor to the Saban campaign, Lt. Daniel Jones, shows up on the sheriff ’s transfer list as being sent to the civil process unit. However, Jones’ personnel file shows he had been in that unit since 2001. Jones gave $350 to the Saban campaign.
Others who showed support for Saban, but did not give money, also were bumped from specialized and prestigious positions. Capt. Dan Whalen had been in charge of the intelligence unit for the sheriff ’s office before the November transfers. But after he attended a Saban primary election night rally in Mesa, he was transferred to the property room.
FEAR OF RETALIATION
Deputy Sean Pearce, whose wife gave $50 to Saban, was on the sheriff’s SWAT team when the November transfers went through. Pearce, who lives in Mesa, was given a patrol assignment in Sun City but remained on the tactical unit. He was shot during a SWAT operation in December, and the old SWAT team was replaced a few weeks later. Pearce remains in the special enforcement unit, but is off the SWAT team.
Officers who said they feared retaliation if they spoke with the Tribune cited what happened to Pearce, who spoke critically of his newly installed SWAT commanders — both Arpaio supporters — during an interview with the Tribune in January. The day after that interview, Pearce and other members of the SWAT team were put under internal investigation.
That investigation remains open.
Two deputies who donated to Saban, Lance Novasad and Jack Heywood, remain patrol officers and do not appear to have been affected by their campaign contributions. Novasad gave $60 to the Saban campaign while Heywood gave $40, county records show.
Two other deputies who donated to Saban were already in the units that guard courtrooms and transport prisoners before the November election.
Deputy Michael Culhane, who gave $350 to Saban, was moved out of lake patrol and into court security in 2002, according to his personnel records. Culhane is head of the Deputies Law Enforcement Association, a union representing sheriff’s deputies.
Deputy Michael Pennington, who gave $140 to Saban, was moved to court security in 2001, records show. Pennington is president of a Fraternal Order of Police lodge that endorsed Saban in the primary last year. In 2000, a year before he was moved to court security, Pennington’s lodge issued a "vote of no confidence" against Arpaio.
It is a violation of county employee merit rules to discriminate against workers who engage in permitted political activity, which includes donating money or expressing support for a candidate while off duty.
Black said large-scale transfers are done periodically in the sheriff’s office. Last year, the office hired about 40 officers, who had been assigned to the jail and prisoner transport units after they graduated from the academy, Black said.
Some transfers were done to free patrol positions so those new deputies could get training in the field, he said. That required some experienced deputies to be transferred to prisoner transport and court security, Black said.
Three deputies who donated to Saban and were moved off patrol were experienced field training officers — deputies who are qualified to train new patrol officers.
Though Black said he could not speak to all of the transfers, he did say some individuals were moved because their experience and expertise were needed in specialized assignments.
As for the patrol officers reassigned to the jails and courts, Black said that was a natural consequence of moving the new deputies into the field for training. He acknowledged that some of the positions are less desired than others.
"Unfortunately, some of the older guys don’t like getting moved back down to transportation and we try to avoid doing it as much as we can," Black said. "The transfers had nothing to do with any list, including a contributions list."
Saban, now chief of police in Buckeye, said arbitrarily transferring experienced officers is bad policy because it robs the agency of expertise in specialized assignments that took years to build.
"You’ve got to judge people on their work performance and their value within the organization, not what they do personally in a political setting. That’s inappropriate," Saban said.
While Saban backers fared poorly in the November transfers, those who worked to reelect Arpaio either stayed put or ended up in choice assignments. Most of the top commanders in the sheriff’s office either gave money to the Arpaio campaign, circulated nominating petitions, or did both, according to election records.
The Tribune matched the names of people who circulated petitions or gave money to Arpaio with the personnel files and transfer lists. That comparison shows that after aiding Arpaio’s campaign, three of those officers were promoted to sergeant, three to lieutenant, three to captain and one to deputy chief.
In all, the Tribune identified 40 sheriff’s office employees who either donated to Arpaio or circulated his nominating petitions. Almost half were on the transfer lists.
Among the most active supporters of the sheriff was Lt. Paul Chagolla, who was promoted in November. Chagolla filed about 30 nominating petitions for Arpaio and gave $100 to his campaign. Though he was promoted, Chagolla was not transferred from his job as public information officer.
Other political supporters of Arpaio who were promoted in November: Deputy chief Brian Sands, who filed 22 nominating petitions; Capt. Terry Young, who filed five petitions and gave $200; Lt. David Letourneau, who donated $100; Sgt. Bryan Todd Whitney, who filed one petition; and Brown, who was promoted to sergeant.
Capt. Joel Fox and Sgt. Travis Anglin, who filed nominating petitions for the sheriff, were promoted in April. Also promoted in April was Lt. Kenneth Holmes, who gave $200 to the sheriff’s campaign two months earlier, according to county records.
Earlier this month, Capt. Edward Lopez, who filed nominating petitions for the sheriff, was promoted and given Parrish’s old job.
While Black characterized the post-election shake-up as routine, no other police agency contacted by the Tribune has transferred such large numbers of sworn officers, according to department officials. Transfers are typically done on a case-by-case basis as positions come open, with applicants judged on factors such as seniority, test scores and oral boards. Most police departments, including those in the East Valley, also periodically allow patrol officers to apply for different shifts or patrol sectors.
"Our policy has pretty much been that if people are happy in their position, they are allowed to stay," said deputy Dawn Barkman, spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.
Louis Mayo, a police management consultant and cofounder of the Virginia-based Police Association for College Education, said large-scale transfers are seldom done in major police agencies.
"Just shaking things up is not good policy," Mayo said. "If you are going to do reassignments, it should be done with clear criteria of what the problem is, what is the purpose and what is the good for the organization. Just moving people around is not good management."