Soldier of Fortune was at full force at the May 2009 NRA Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. We met with Sheriff Joe Arpaio for two afternoons to interview America’s most controversial hard-core sheriff, and particularly to discuss his hard-core illegal immigration policy. This is a guy SOF had to meet.
We dragged along a mammoth list of criticisms, asking him to respond to the points his critics have made. One rabid article that had appeared in a local journal had won a Pulitzer Prize the previous month. He took the charges on with his famed enthusiasm and vigor. I will highlight the significant ones. For weeks I researched the endless anti- Sheriff Joe monologues, diatribes, misquotes, and misinterpretations. A shocking slew of legal cases have been brought against the Sheriff—with all of his millions of dollars of defense costs, settlements and judgements paid by the taxpayer.
Never mind whether they were filed for harassment purposes or whether the plaintiffs believed they had legitimate claims of abuse. Many well-resourced factual articles and statistics and reports comparing other jail conditions, mortality rates, demographics, and various sheriffs’ abuses are circulating as well. Head spinning, I could only be grateful that I was not on Sheriff Joe’s defense team. When bias and activism cloud facts and realities, and statistics are manipulated—sometimes by both sides, I shudder to think of the direction that our legal system is taking—so, so far away from the principles of our founders.
Notwithstanding all that, the story of the colorful Sheriff Joe provides great entertainment.
HUMAN RIGHTS HYPOCRISY TO THE FRONT
He’s become known as the as the toughest sheriff in the west, and on the entire planet, for that matter. Liberal activists have targeted him endlessly for his tough stance on illegal immigration through Maricopa County, Arizona.
He’s been called a Nazi and likened to Hitler by those not imaginative enough to come up with their own alternatives to such overused labels, or even know when to use them. Lunatic demonstrators in Phoenix, in an act of mindless violence, chopped off the head of a mocked up Sheriff Joe piñata. Bystander human rights activists, who long ago must have lost their perspective if they condone even symbolic beheading, chuckled with glee.
“The piñata, with a picture of Arpaio’s face taped or glued to the head, was clad in a sheriff’s uniform and equipped with pink handcuffs. One woman held up the piñata, while two teenage girls took turns bashing it with sticks. The Tucson Citizen ran a picture the next day of a teenaged boy carting away the remains of the beheaded piñata.
“While the beating of Arpaio in effigy proceeded, Isabel Garcia, head of Humanos Derechos (human rights), a group that purports to stand for the dignity of all human beings, stood by and laughed. I wondered how Garcia would react if the virulent anti-illegal immigrant hard-liners were to burn her in effigy or hang a papier-mâché figure
meant to represent an Mexican illegal immigrant,” a reporter who attended the rally wrote on immigrationmexicanamerican.blogspot.com Garcia told the offended journalist that the gesture was fun for the kids, that it was not a real portrayal of physical violence.
TIGHT RULE, TIGHT SECURITY
Some even want him dead. The Wacko Pyromaniac was a highly publicized case. The wacko was in jail for attempting to blow up a local high school when he allegedly hatched up the assassination plot. The wacko was acquitted because he claimed to have been set up by the Sheriff’s office. In any case, the media in Phoenix has had a hay day reporting the assassination attempts. It didn’t help that Sheriff Joe made a media circus of the event, and that the facts were inconclusive.
Still, Sheriff Joe takes the assassination threats seriously. He travels in a $70,000 armored car. We met with Sheriff Joe in his highly secured office on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Phoenix.
Rather than being dressed in a tough guy uniform as we expected, Sheriff Joe looked quite the politician in a suit and tie.
“I’m not a big gun nut, I don’t carry guns,” he said almost apologetically, since he realized he was talking to the publisher of one of the most macho magazines ever. “I have a big gun tie clasp, but since I am seeing President Obama, I am not wearing it. I think everyone should be able to have a gun. The only thing I say is learn how to shoot them, that is all.”
Sheriff Joe was planning to join the greeting party to meet President Obama, scheduled to arrive for his commencement speech at the University of Phoenix. Sheriff Joe pointed to the front page of a local paper framed on one wall of his office. The newspaper headlined President Obama as the next president of the United States.
That was not news.
“Look at the skyline of the cover,” he proudly pointed out the skyline that in his estimation headlined the local newspaper.
“SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO REELECTED,” the skyline screamed out.
“I have been elected by the people for five terms since 1992,” Sheriff Joe said, frustrated that he has to constantly remind his critics that he is the choice of the people of Maricopa County. “ACORN, the ACLU, and people in Washington conveniently forget that.”
AL QAIDA WOULD GET THE SAME WELCOME
Sheriff Joe detractors constantly accuse him of being a racist and of racial profiling of Hispanics.
“I don’t care where those coming across the Mexico–Arizona border illegally come from, they would get the exact same welcome. I would love to apprehend a terrorist or a Canadian or an Iraqi coming across illegally,” the burly, outspoken Sheriff told SOF.
“It is estimated that currently 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants reside in the United States,” usimmigrationsupport.com reports. “Of this figure, slightly more than half, or 7 million, come from Mexico; 3 million are from Latin and Central America; and approximately one million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States are from Asia.” That makes 10 million out of 11–12 million of Hispanic origin. It follows that most illegal immigrants crossing into Maricopa County are from Mexico or other Hispanic countries.
Wholesale accusations of racism didn’t make much sense, considering the ethnic mix of assistants and deputies that busily wander in and out of Sheriff Joe’s executive domain.
“SMILE, YOU ARE UNDER ARREST”
Sheriff Joe is a seasoned showman with a dramatic sense of theatrics. That gets him in trouble, like when the media photographed hundreds of maximum-security inmates dressed in underwear and flip-flops marching to their new home, the Lower Buckeye Jail. It was to ensure that they were not toting any weapons, according to the sheriff’s office.
Or when the media takes photos of male inmates dressed only in his famous Sheriff Joe-designed emasculating pink underwear and pink handcuffs. The underwear were so hyped in the media that the law enforcements king of drama decided to sell them to the public for fund raising for his posses.
“I average 200 to 300 appearances a month on local TV and radio; it is every day,” Sheriff Joe told us with a grin bordering on boasting. He has become the notorious star of the reality TV show “Smile ... You’re Under Arrest!,” that stages true-to-life arrest scenarios.
“I was voted Best Local Hero, beating out our great American hero Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals player who gave up his career to serve in Afghanistan, and tragically, it meant giving up his life.
“I beat out McCain in the Best Local Politician vote two years in a row. I told them I would. McCain was at the bottom of the list,” he chuckled.
IT’S ILLEGAL, IT’S CRIME RIDDEN, IT’S NOT RACISM
For Joe Arpiao, the problem with people crossing into the United States through the border without proper documentation is a no brainer.
To Sheriff Joe, the solution is just as clear—they have violated the law. They are criminals. Lock them up just like
American perps, give them a trial, have the courts slap them with a felony record, and ship them back to where they came from. That way, they will be subject to a warrant for their arrest if they ever try to return.
“When you cross the border illegally, you are a criminal—you have violated federal law. We average 2000 inmates a day out of 10,000. Twenty percent are here illegally, convicted of anything from murder to DUIs and other crimes.”
Sixty or seventy percent of those convicted of crimes were arrested for felony crimes,” Sheriff Joe said. “Illegal immigration is very much tied into crime,” he said.
U.S. CAPITAL OF KIDNAPPING
“Phoenix is number two in the world for kidnappings and hostage taking, after Mexico City, because of the human traffickers and drugs cartels,” Sheriff Joe said. “The majority of murders and kidnapping have nothing to do with drugs. We found 14 people that had been kidnapped only in their underwear. The traffickers sometimes shoot them. We rescue people all the time. Officials say we had 350 kidnappings last year. They say it has to do with drugs, but it has to do with illegal immigration. They put the emphasis on drugs and minimize crime connected with illegal immigration.
Sam Quinones, citing official figures of 700 kidnappings in Phoenix in the last two years, while reporting on the
kidnapping victims in the LA Times, agrees that the kidnap market spilled over to Phoenix with the increase in human and drug trafficking.
Kidnapping is used to collect trafficking debts in both cases. The grunt work, like guarding the kidnap victim, is often done by young, unemployed illegal immigrants, desperate for work, who sign on for $50 to $200 a day to guard the victims, Quinones reports. Recruiting hangouts include several popular local Phoenix bars.
WHEN DOES IT END?
Sheriff Joe quickly dismissed the concern of Robert K. Brown, publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine regarding “When will illegal immigration stop? When will the United States realize its limits? It financially can’t continue to absorb millions and millions of illegal immigrants.”
“I only get involved if they come here illegally. If the government wants to control the situation legally, I don’t care how many immigrants are let in. That is the government’s problem. What I object to is the fact that there is no control on illegal immigration. That is why I enforce the law and lock them up," Sheriff Joe said.
He has no problem with legal immigration, making it clear that he is proud to be the son of an immigrant family—a legal one that is. “My mother and father came from Italy. They learned the language, opened up a business, an Italian grocery store.”
PROUD TO BE A CHILD OF IMMIGRANTS
The flamboyant, seemingly uncomplicated 77-year-old sheriff momentarily became philosophical and nostalgic.
“The problem with illegal immigration is that it is impacting on our culture because we are seeing their failure to assimilate. They don’t come here to stay; they want to work and go back.
“When I was growing up, we did not have that many cultural problems. We were proud of our ethnic background. We would patronize a shoemaker, or whoever was Italian. He would be an Italian, yes, but an American–Italian.
”Generations of Hispanics who have been here, who are Americans, seem to have a different attitude. I found that they resent the illegal influx in many cases,” RKB said.
“When I was head of the DEA working out of San Antonio in 1964, when this was not a big problem, I would call the Latin speakers Hispanics. They would say, ‘call me American. Are we Mexican? We are Americans’! Legal people are proud to be American, but the illegals come to work. They are not going to stay. They go home.”
“In your book, Sheriff Joe, you say 49 percent of Hispanic voters state wide supported you,” SOF queried.
“I don’t know if this is true now,” he said. “Since then things have gotten nastier, polls haven’t broken it down in the last ten months. There was so much going on prior to the election. It was nasty. Thousands of people were running down the streets, calling me Hitler, Nazi, symbolically chopping my head off.
A TOUGH GUY WITH A SOFT SPOT FOR ANIMALS
As we spoke, some local journalists barged in asking about his dog protection program (It is an impressive program, detailed later).
“Sit in,” Sheriff Joe told us, “You can see how the reporters operate.” I won’t go into the details of the insipid questioning by reporters, although the program, staffed by prisoners who care for the animals, is quite commendable.
“Animals are innocent, helpless victims,” he said. “DMZ the rapper is in jail, we have his dogs,” Sheriff Joe said.
“We locked up a police officer for keeping a dog in a car. We lock everybody up who abuses animals. We have Mexican illegals involved in cock fighting. Mexican or American, we lock them up.”
PORTRAIT OF A WITCH HUNT
Being a sheriff with guts is rough in the U.S., with its wishy-washy legal system that has so many perpetrator loopholes that it has lost any deterrent factor. One of the most annoying is invoking racism simply for convenience, not for cause.
Although Sheriff Joe is one tough cookie, his latest battle with the “my way or the highway” Obama administration is his most ominous battle of all.
“I’m going to see the President in a few minutes to see if he knows who I am. Why did he come after me for racial profiling in the first 60 days he was in the White House?
“Based on your experience, isn’t it unusual that any government reacts so quickly on anything? Why did they do it in sixty days? Nothing in government is done in only 60 days. It normally takes them a year to look at a letter,” he asked, having given his own response.
“Why am I the poster boy for the so-called 287g that I signed with the Immigration and Customs (ICE)?” he asked us.
A federal program called 287g was designed in 1996 to certify state and local law enforcement officers to make agreements with the Feds to enforce illegal immigration laws. Several states entered into 287g agreements, and Arizona is one of them.
Sheriff Joe implemented the agreement with great zeal, since illegal immigration has overwhelmed border cities such as Phoenix, 80 miles from the border.
CHASING EL OGRO
“This guy,” he angrily pointed out the window, “the mayor, Phil Gordon, went to the U.S. Attorney General Holder in Washington a year ago with garbage accusations against me—Bla! Bla! Bla!” Sheriff Joe contemptuously spit out the words.
“He got four Congressmen—Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), head of the judiciary committee; Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.); Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.); and Robert Scott (D-Va.)—to request the investigation, and activist groups such as ACORN joined, with their petition drives and rallies, in coming after me. Conyers and others who spearheaded a movement against me with all these activists groups, including the police chief in Mesa, all of them wrote to Gov. Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder.
“’We want him investigated for his illegal operations’”, Sheriff Joe glanced at a letter lying face up on the center top of his desk as if it were mocking him.
“So you got the Congress writing to Homeland Security and the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General who wrote this letter, requesting an investigation.
“They sent eight people here last week. Eight! They are accusing me of racial profiling. They go after police departments, including LAPD, who all give up when they get investigated, whether for brutality or civil rights. But now they are picking on an elected sheriff. I just went out and locked up 80 more after I got the letter. I answer to the people, not the Mayor,” he spoke daringly.
THE GREAT CONSPIRACY
“Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat on the Arizona Board of Supervisors, who control appropriating funds for the Sheriff’s office, is also behind this. The Board of Supervisors doesn’t tell me what to do because I am elected, but they give me the money. There is not one Republican in the mix.
“Mary Rose Wilcox is in bed with all these activists groups. They figure they have me now. They got 30,000 signatures to bring to Congress.
“Do they think I am going to give in to the Justice Department? They all give in,” he said with bravado, but with weariness.
“They are investigating me for what they heard in the newspaper. Arpaio sent a letter to U.S Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, questioning the legitimacy of the DOJ’s investigation into his office.
His gut feelings were right. As a 30-year law enforcement veteran, including time served as a former head of the DEA who served in Turkey, Mexico and other drug corridors, he had to develop strong instincts or die.
The administration was using him as the sacrificial sheriff lamb. In July, two months after our visit, the administration announced that 287g was no longer to be available for local law enforcement for apprehending suspects under the law for non-violent crimes, whatever that means.
Pandering to Washington’s pro-illegal immigration gang and kissing up to the Hispanic community in her constituency pushing to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former prosecutor and Arizona governor, joined the boogieman hunt. To set the stage, she downplayed the violence that has spilled over from Mexico to the United States, although she voiced a mushy mouth concern that the spillover may be possible, although unlikely.
“There are no ethics or honesty or loyalty, at least when it comes to politicians some times,” Sheriff Joe said with disgust.
A PATHETIC PUBLICITY PLOY, REV.
“Did you see that your letter to the Reverend Al Sharpton was published in SOF? Have you had any response from the Reverend?” RKB asked.
“I’m going to write him another letter,” he responded mischievously. “I’m going to call his bluff. He gave me until 1 June to resign. ‘You said you’re coming down. Come on down.’ He’s not coming.”
But he did come.
See Part II, Witch Hunt continued, Tent City, The Chain Gangs, and Sheriff Joe’s Notorious Posse.