The news that the federal government’s four-year investigation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio has come to nothing does not surprise me. I predicted this outcome from the very start, though I hoped to be wrong. This is the second time I have seen this happen to Arpaio.
Flashback: It is Halloween, 1997. Janet Napolitano represented Anita Hill. Her reputation is that of a pugnacious, spirited lawyer who knows the difference between right and wrong. But today she’s not dealing with Clarence Thomas. She’s dealing with Joe Arpaio. And Janet Napolitano is nervous.
This is her last day as U.S. attorney. She, too, is thinking of running for governor. And to have a chance of success, she needs Arpaio’s endorsement. So they’re having a joint news conference.
The federal government has been investigating reports of brutality in his jails. Today it has filed a lawsuit over it, but it has agreed to drop the lawsuit in six months if Arpaio implements certain changes to use-of-force policy in the jails. Essentially, the feds have found Arpaio guilty and have put him on probation. Not that you’d know it from the news conference.
One of the reasons the conference has been called is to address the contents of a report on the use of force in the jails, compiled by George E. Sullivan, a corrections consultant, who was chosen “to serve as a mutually agreeable expert consultant for the United States and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office [MCSO] in the United States’ ongoing investigation into certain aspects of conditions of confinement in the Maricopa County Jails.”
In speeches that border on the surreal, both Napolitano and Arpaio declare that the report has exonerated him. When the subject of the lawsuit is raised, Napolitano dismisses it as “a lawyer’s paper” and “a technicality.”
When a reporter asks Napolitano whether she believes the allegations against Arpaio, she says, “I’m not going to comment on the allegations.” When another reporter suggests that her embrace of Arpaio might be motivated by her gubernatorial aspirations, she answers, “People can be cynical.”
Arpaio briefly talks about how he’s “famous all over the world,” then says he doesn’t consider the federal government’s investigation to be an investigation; it’s a “management structure.” He says his critics pick on him because of personal agendas. Although he has agreed to implement the changes recommended by the feds, at the same time he says that nothing will change. “The chain gangs stay. The tents stay. The pink underwears [sic] stay. All my programs stay.”
As I walk out of that conference, logic be damned, I almost believe that he has been exonerated. His performance, and Napolitano’s, have been that brazen. At that point I haven’t seen the report, which hasn’t been made available to the public.
It takes me another two months to obtain the report. On the day that I get it, I go to a bar, get a beer, and sit down at a table with the report and a highlighter. I’m planning to mark any passages that condemn Arpaio. It doesn’t take long for me to abandon that idea—or else I’d have to highlight at least three quarters of the fifty-page document. Now that the report is in the hands of people like me, Arpaio changes his story. Instead of claiming exoneration, he now says that the report is based on “innuendo.” Here are some of Sullivan’s “innuendos”:
Sullivan dryly remarks, “It is not surprising that litigation was invited and that the image of the MCSO became negative in some professional circles.”