My experience on first meeting Joe (Arpaio), though not as momentous as Jon Beydler’s (referenced in his Dec. 14 column), reinforces your impression of this publicity hound. Joe had just been elected and he and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors were in court as defendants — recalcitrant defendants. It was Federal Court. Years before either he or most, if not all, of the Supervisors had personally been elected, an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) law suit on prison overcrowding had resulted in the entry of a consent decree which bound them as successor figures. Our county was not at all good at housing its numerous prisoners. We were housing more than twice the number of prisoners as the jails, mostly of federal design, were supposed to house. Joe was mad. Just who did this judge think he was to threaten Joe? His attorney had to take him outside of the court room to settle him down. It was embarrassing for the other defendants to be associated with such an unruly co-defendant.
The issue was, will the Federal judge hold Joe and the Supervisors in contempt of the consent decree which their predecessors had agreed to regarding building more jail space and several other issues related to the treatment of prisoners?
At that time I had another friend who was an employee of Joe’s. He worked as a prison guard. His stories of prisoner mistreatment were horrifying. Prison guards knew that when prisoners were mistreated, prison guards were in jeopardy of retaliation. They did not like the new rules Joe had set down! The judge was threatening to jail Joe and the Supervisors. In an attempt to help them see reality, he ordered each to take a tour of the jails. I recall how shocked Betsy Bayless was upon seeing conditions at both the 1st Avenue and women’s jails. But Joe was not the least bit concerned. After all, bad guys are bad guys and do not deserve humane treatment!
A day or two later, I was with the friend who had succeeded the ACLU attorney. He was the one who had invited me along to court. We were in the office of Joe’s attorney (Joe had his own attorney). But Joe was too important to be there personally, even though we were just across the street from Joe’s own office. Not much was accomplished. But we did get a hint as to what the attorney was going to recommend Joe do. Since the consent decree only applied to pre-trial detainees, Joe was going to house only pretrial detainees in his jails. He would create more space elsewhere for those who have been sentenced.
Months later, and working under the advice and counsel of Joe’s rather brilliant attorney, tent city was created. And naturally Joe took all of the credit for himself. However we all knew different. In effect, that Federal Court Judge made Sheriff Joe famous but Joe’s attorney deserved the credit.
Following shortly thereafter, we got Joe’s pink underwear, chain gangs out doing publicity — work which cost more money for guards that hiring the work done privately would have cost — baloney sandwiches and alike. Joe was in his element. Joe bragged that he had reduced the cost of housing prisoners from around $70 per day when he took office, to about $30 after his changes were put into effect. Whoever was Joe’s publicity agent was easily as brilliant as Karl Rove! But I hear that today the cost is back to $70 and Joe is in trouble for spending money outside of the budget.
And then there is the commissary. Rather than providing prisoners paper, pencil, envelopes and stamps, Joe opened up a commissary to sell those supplies as well as other materials including some candy bars and sodas. The cost per item was enormous. The covered up scandal was in regard to who pocketed the proceeds. There were no books to audit! And don’t forget that lawsuit brought against Joe over the death of a pretrial detainee? Is Joe an executioner? Settling that suit cost us all a bundle.
No, folks, Sheriff Joe needs to go. It’s not at all about law enforcement. Rather as both Jon and Rich point out and as many deputies know all too well, it’s all about Joe. Sure Joe is the toughest Sheriff in America. But tough is not synonymous with effective. He’s one of the most ineffective men I have ever met. If you recall, three years later one of his subordinates ran for sheriff against him. Many subordinates wished Joe had lost. It’s publicity that gets him reelected. And my friend is now a deputy sheriff in another county!