Thursday, November 19, 2009

America's most authoritarian sheriff

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, likes to promote himself as America's "toughest" sheriff. If by tough, one means authoritarian, then that would be accurate. There are few sheriffs in the modern world with a similar contempt for the law and the constitution. Actually it is the law that he disrespects. The constitution is just completely off his radar entirely.

Because of the numerous complaints that Arpaio engages in racial profiling the Immigration thugs told Arpaio he was no longer allowed to act on their behalf. And when Immigration thinks you are in contempt of the law and the constitution that says a lot. To get around the ban Arpaio now uses the slightest excuse to stop anyone who looks too brown for liking. Then the individual, if suspected of being an undocumented immigrant is arrest for human trafficking. The law exists to criminalize individuals smuggling in undocumented workers. Arpaio argues that any such person has smuggled himself and is thus susceptible to his authority. The same logic, I would note, would justify the arrest of all individuals under the age of 18 for child molestation if they masturbate.

Recently one of Arpaio's underlings was in court when a suspect was being sentenced. He walks over to a table for the defense attorney and swipes a privileged document. His theft was caught on video. Officer Adam Stoddard pretends he has the right to steal documents from an attorney's desk in court by claiming that it had "suspicious words" on it. Of course, even if true, the only way to know that was to pull the paper from the pile and look at it in violation of the attorney's rights. And that would invalidate any information he gathered by the act.

The judge says the officer is in contempt of court. More importantly he has shown a contempt for the law and shouldn't be a police officer. Not so, says Sheriff Joe, with his usual contempt for law and justice. The judge told the officer he must make a public apology to the attorney for violating her rights and the privacy of her documents. I would have preferred legal charges.

Sheriff Joe went ballistic—he is the law as are his deputies and they need not follow the law. Arpaio started his counterattack by claiming that attorney has links with other attorneys who allegedly smuggled contraband to prisoners (whatever that means in Arpaioland). But having "links" is not the same thing as having committed a crime. This was just Arpaio trying to tarnish the reputation of someone who embarrassed him by catching his arrogant staff acting with the same contempt for the law that Arpaio exhibits.

King Arpaio has ordered his sheriff to refuse to apologize for his actions. Arpaio says: "My officer was doing his job, and I will not stand by allow him to be thrown to the wolves by the courts because they feel pressure from the media on this situation. I decide who holds press conferences and when they are held regarding this Sheriff's Office." Doing his job? Theft is now part of the job of the sheriff's department? (This is the same department that took a tank to delivery to arrest someone on a minor charge. They left the tank parked on a hill when it rolled backwards smashing into a car almost killing a woman and her child.)

If the officer doesn't apologize he is in contempt of court and can face jail time for it. Personally I think Arpaio ought to be sharing the cell with him. Dissect Arpaio's comment and you will see several distortions of the truth—usually called lies in moral circles. An apology for acting illegally is hardly "being thrown to the wolves." And the officer was caught at the time and held in contempt. The media didn't have time to put pressure on the judge. But Arpaio has never been concerned about facts.

One local attorney, Jason Lamm, said: "Never before has this community seen such a blatant violation of the attorney-client privilege." Arpaio's claim is that the sheriff was attempting "to protect the people inside the courtroom." From what? A piece of paper? Words? It's just more Arpaio bullshit.

Labels: ,