Arpaio, activist group standing their ground - East Valley Tribune: News

Arpaio, activist group standing their ground

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Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008 5:57 pm | Updated: 9:32 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The battle of wills between MCSO and MCSA remains largely where it began six months ago.

On one side stands Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, with at least tacit support from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

On the opposing side is the activist group Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, with fervent support of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, among a few other activist groups.

The conflict between the sheriff's office and the Maricopa Citizens has generated nine arrests, one illegal public meeting and ample amounts of public discussion, newspaper headlines and broadcast news coverage, but neither side has blinked.

Arpaio and Maricopa Citizens director Raquel Terán both pledged last week to continue their missions unaffected by the other. If anything, both sides have become more invigorated.

The group's barrage of criticism has amounted to nothing, Arpaio said, considering that he easily won re-election in November to a new four-year term.

"I don't know if they want to keep doing it. That's their prerogative. The only thing I can say is that it's the sheriff who decides how to operate his office," Arpaio said.

The Maricopa Citizens group has succeeded in bringing new public attention to Arpaio's record, Terán said.

"We will continue to do it. We have a voice. We will continue to do it," she said.

The Maricopa Citizens organization formed during the summer specifically to oppose Arpaio and the manner in which he runs the sheriff's office.

The coalition is comprised of community-based organizations, labor unions, religious leaders, students and elected officials. They repeatedly have called for the Board of Supervisors to provide greater oversight of Arpaio's operations.

Specifically, the Maricopa Citizens have questioned the sheriff's office's ability to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner, conduct criminal investigations, control its budget, run its jails without triggering multimillion-dollar lawsuits and operate its illegal immigration enforcement efforts without racial profiling.

The citizens group largely has adopted the findings of lengthy independent investigations of the sheriff's office conducted by the Tribune and The Arizona Republic newspapers and the conservative Goldwater Institute research organization.

The five-member Board of Supervisors has taken a hands-off stance toward Arpaio's job performance, noting that he holds an elected position and is answerable to county voters.

Meanwhile, Arpaio and his aides largely have dismissed both the criticism and investigations as the products of a conspiracy of political opponents, "liberal" media outlets, a "libertarian" researcher and "open-border" advocates to discredit him in retaliation for his illegal-immigration enforcement tactics.

And while Arpaio and his spokesman have discussed the notion of the ever-growing conspiracy in public forums and numerous media interviews, they've never presented any evidence of its actual existence.

Furthermore, the Maricopa Citizens' leaders have never discussed an open-borders agenda during any of their public events.

Much of the debate between the sides has unfolded at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors' monthly meetings. The citizens group regularly brings 30 or more members, who are easily identifiable because they usually wear red shirts and MCSA stickers.

Maricopa Citizens leaders have petitioned the Board of Supervisors to be placed on the formal agenda of one of their meetings. That would allow the citizens group to present their issues in the routine manner that the board permits private developers and others to present their proposals.

For six months though, the four Republicans on the board have rebuffed the group's requests. Two of the four, Don Stapley of District 2 and Max Wilson of District 4, at times have said they might be willing to place the group on the agenda, but they have yet to do so.

So without being placed on the formal agenda to present their case, the Maricopa Citizens members instead have taken the tactic of speaking for two or three minutes at a time during each meeting's public comment session.

Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox, D-District 5, said her colleagues probably could have saved themselves months of headaches by letting the group's members speak on the formal agenda during the summer.

"I feel that if we had let them have their say, it would not have escalated to this extent," she said. "I really feel that if a group comes before us, everybody gets their due. I don't see anything wrong with a group coming before us and asking us for dialog."

The other members of the board, all Republicans, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Since the citizens group emerged on the scene, tensions between the sheriff's office and Stapley have become strained.

Stapley demanded and received two briefings by sheriff's office commanders after the Tribune's five-day investigative series "Reasonable Doubt" was published in July. At the time, Stapley said he was satisfied the sheriff's office was trying to improve its law-enforcement duties.

Earlier this month, part of those duties came to involve Stapley. County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Arpaio announced a 118-count indictment against the supervisor on charges of perjury, forgery and filing false statements.

Stapley has denied the charges.

The Board of Supervisors' meetings also have undergone a number of changes since the Maricopa Citizens group began attending.

The supervisors cut the amount of time each member of the public is allowed to speak during the public comment portions of the public meetings. The board permits each speaker two minutes. Previously, the board gave every speaker three minutes.

Generally, eight or nine sheriff's office deputies and county security officers station themselves around the perimeter of the small auditorium where the board holds its meetings. Also, as many as 20 deputies and officers are stationed out-of-view in hallways around the edges of the auditorium and another 20 or so patrol a plaza outside the auditorium's front doors.

In the pre-Maricopa Citizens era, usually a few deputies worked the metal detectors in the auditorium's lobby and a few others remained inside the auditorium.

Most noticeably, deputies and security officers restrict movement within the auditorium, directing spectators to take seats and remain in their seats while the meetings are in session.

Previously, Board of Supervisors meetings were conducted like virtually every other public meeting, at which spectators routinely stand in the aisles and occasionally walk about to confer with other spectators.

In that regard, crowds at most public meetings more closely resemble spectators at a baseball game rather than audience members at a movie theater.

And, of course, deputies and security agents at the Board of Supervisors meetings have begun to arrest spectators. That development came Wednesday.

During the meeting, Board of Supervisors chairman Andy Kunasek warned spectators that they were being disruptive by applauding speakers, but deputies neither dismissed nor arrested spectators who applauded an animal advocate or a public transportation advocate who sang a birthday song for Kunasek.

The scene was different when about 15 spectators stood and clapped for 20 seconds after a Maricopa Citizens group member spoke critically of Arpaio during her turn at the lectern.

Deputies arrested Joel Nelson, Jason Odhner, Monica Sandschafer and Kristy Theilen on allegations of disorderly conduct and trespassing.

Odhner is a member of the Maricopa Citizens. Nelson, Sandschafer and Theilen are members of ACORN. ACORN has been closely aligned with the Maricopa Citizens during the anti-Arpaio campaign.

Nelson is black. The other three are white. Early Friday morning, three deputies appeared at Terán's home to give her a disorderly conduct citation linked to her role at Wednesday's meeting. Terán is Hispanic.

Deputies made the arrests in a clear attempt to intimidate people associated with Maricopa Citizens, said Carlos Calindo, who attended the meeting.

"It is incredible the way they behaved," said Calindo, who is not a member of the citizens organization. "You come in there and the atmosphere is incredibly oppressive. They yell at you. They scold you. They try to intimidate you. It is improper."

The lone matter at issue for deputies is people's behavior in the meetings, Arpaio said.

"They're not trying to intimidate anybody. They're just responding to violations of the law, which is disorderly conduct and trespassing," he said.

"I don't know if Mary Rose (Wilcox) has a little problem with this, but she has to understand that we enforce the laws of the state of Arizona. We don't enforce her laws," Arpaio said.

The Maricopa Citizens are more invigorated than ever, said Danny Ortega, an attorney for the organization.

"If what Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Board of Supervisors are trying to do is intimidate citizens who petition the government, they are absolutely wrong. They will not intimidate us," he said.

"What occurred Wednesday is nothing short of atrocious, over the top, an abuse of power, an abuse of discretion. More than anything else, it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies as well as the Board of Supervisors who trampled, absolutely trampled, on the Constitution of this country," he said.

The group's leaders and attorneys are considering whether to bring civil action against the sheriff's office for possible false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, Ortega said.

Wednesday's arrests brought the Maricopa Citizens-affiliated arrest tally to nine. On Monday, deputies arrested Sandschafer, Theilen and two other women for refusing to leave the outer lobby of Kunasek's 10th-floor office. In September, they arrested Maricopa Citizens co-founder and organizer Randy Parraz outside a Board of Supervisors meeting in September.

Also in September, the Board of Supervisors was forced to conduct a special "ratification" meeting to redo a portion of a previous meeting that sheriff's office deputies and county security officers illegally closed.

The county authorities barred public access to the public meeting after Parraz and about 15 other members of the citizens group began speaking out of turn. Authorities escorted Parraz out of the meeting, and other Maricopa Citizens members and some reporters followed.

From that point, authorities barred access to nearly anyone who wanted to enter or re-enter the meeting. Deputies and security officers stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside the auditorium's front door, turning away people affiliated with the Maricopa Citizens, people unaffiliated with the group, and some members of the media.

MCSO's efforts to crack down on MCSA won't work, Terán said.

"It doesn't matter because we work through that fear and come together and organize. That's what we want to do. We want to organize something different and create a good movement," she said.

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