The list reads like a Who’s Who of Sheriff Arpaio’s nearest and dearest allies:
One by one, those responsible for helping Sheriff Arpaio take revenge on his enemies or silence his detractors are being held accountable for their actions. One by one, individuals who have broken the law are being questioned and facing punishment.
But the man in charge, the one linked to all of these individuals, is still in office and still running for reelection and still commanding all the headlines. And now people are starting to ask why, and how do we change that?
First we must come together, as residents of Maricopa County, and insist the Department of Justice take Sheriff Arpaio to court. In a recent panel discussion on the DOJ investigation, former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was asked what the people of Maricopa County could do to ensure Sheriff Arpaio answers for the injustices highlighted in the investigation. His answer was simple. Send letters to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department and demand a trial. Tell Mr. Holder your personal story, your dealings with MCSO, and your reasons for wanting justice.
But I’d like to add to that list. In addition to writing the Justice Department, write your local paper. Express your concerns about Sheriff Arpaio and your concerns about the media’s insistence in covering all of the Sheriff’s publicity stunts. After all, Sheriff Arpaio could not have risen to such levels of popularity were it not for the help of some members of the media.
I do not wish to make a blanket statement that the media, a very generalized term to begin with, is somehow responsible for Arpaio’s reputation. In fact, several local investigative reporters have gone above and beyond in pointing out the corruption and abuses in the Sheriff’s office. However, it is notable that most of our local television stations and newspapers have also covered each and every one of his press conferences, regardless of its merits or newsworthiness.
Remember the press conference on the birther investigation? While it may be hard to stay away from a circus, it was crucial it be portrayed for what it was… yet another publicity stunt meant to divert attention away from the DOJ report and create a conspiracy theory critical of the Obama Administration.
Members of the media understood that, but they not only covered it, they gave it top billing. That same day one of Arpaio’s contenders in the Sheriff’s race held a press conference of his own. Paul Penzone called the same media outlets and held his own conference to speak about the validity and cost of the investigation.
Remember that story? Me neither.
The panel discussion I mentioned earlier, the one where the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the former Maricopa County Attorney, and the former Arizona Attorney General came together to discuss the findings of the DOJ investigation received almost no coverage in the media. How is it that three highly qualified individuals who have worked with Sheriff Arpaio and are attorneys and former elected officials would not make the front page or even the opinion page in the county’s largest newspaper?
How is it that a politician in a fiscally conservative state who has cost taxpayers more than $150 million (and still growing) in lawsuits and misallocated funds could avoid having those headlines splashed across the front page of every newspaper and at the top of every newscast on a regular basis?
But even without a devoted press, Arpaio has been able to abuse his power because those in charge of maintaining checks and balances on the Sheriff’s office, like the county attorney, failed as well. And perhaps they are still failing.
Recently, County Attorney Bill Montgomery told the feds to “put up or shut up” and questioned the validity of the DOJ report. Does Mr. Montgomery not have access to the Sheriff’s records? Does Mr. Montgomery not have access to media reports that have detailed corruption, discrimination and abuse of power stories over the course of the last decade? Did Mr. Montgomery fail to read the charges leveled against Andrew Thomas or listen to the inconsistent and outrageous testimony during the Thomas trial?
It should also be pointed out, particularly when media outlets such as the Arizona Republic use Montgomery’s concerns as a basis for their questioning of the DOJ report, that Mr. Montgomery received a great deal of help from Sheriff Arpaio in his race for county attorney. As Chris Herstam noted on 12 News Sunday Square Off, Sheriff Arpaio gave $700,000 to Mr. Montgomery in the form of Independent Expenditures in the last campaign. Montgomery has also changed his position on the DOJ investigation from one of indifference to one of indignation.
Sheriff Arpaio has been a cash cow for Republicans and even some Democrats when pursuing elections. These politicians are not ill informed about Arpaio’s ways. They know what he’s cost taxpayers. They know what he’s capable of. Yet they not only support him, they hold him up as a leader of the Republican Party and worse yet, a “patriot.”
If we want those who abuse their power and the public’s trust to be held accountable, we must work for it. We cannot assume that the checks and balances put in place by our government will always work. We cannot hope the media will call politicians out. We cannot wait for “others” to put a stop to it because “others” may not be paying attention.
Yes, the wheels of justice are turning but only because some have had the courage and the conviction to stand up and demand it. Now is the time all of us must join in.