By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Her appointment was delayed for more than a year as the Senate wrangled over whether or not she had coached a critical Hill witness to change testimony.
As an inexperienced United States Attorney, Napolitano's political calculations would protect Arizona's most notorious violator of human rights, a sheriff who would go on to campaign in the presidential primaries as an anti-immigration spokesman.
Napolitano teamed up with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a jointly signed letter of complaint to the head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, on Aug. 14, 2006.
The Napolitano and Arpaio correspondence is, frankly, bizarre.
Their complaints regard Robert Medina, the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) in Arizona. The governor and the sheriff wanted more cooperation.
But Medina's departure from Arizona to Texas had already been announced. He was replaced by Alonzo Pena (who has now been replaced by Matthew Allen).
The note and the accompanying press release appeared to be a political stunt to shore up the Napolitano's tough-on-immigration credentials before the fall election. And her coordinated effort with Arpaio would bear rotten fruit.
At the time of the letter, Arpaio had twice been refused efforts to have his deputies cross-trained under 287(g) to arrest illegal aliens.
Once Arpaio's staff and his posse were trained by ICE, the sheriff and his deputies stepped up anti-immigrant enforcement and all hell broke loose.
Arpaio's raids became infamous nationally. His highly publicized sweeps into Mexican neighborhoods saw people with brown skin pulled over unilaterally.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, in a singular act of courage, demanded this past April that the FBI investigate the sheriff's alleged racial profiling, accusing Arpaio of "a pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests."
A Justice Department probe is ongoing.
The thug tactics of the Arizona sheriff made him a darling of conservative cable television and national talk radio and a target of The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media.
But the closed-border crowd loved Arpaio. Mitt Romney even summoned the sheriff to the Midwest to drum up anti-immigrant voters during the Republican primaries.
Arpaio's roundups climaxed shortly before this month's election, when a heavily armed posse raided the City Hall and library of Mesa, a community where the chief of police and mayor had publicly opposed Arpaio's brutal tactics. Armed like SWAT teams and accompanied by dogs, more than 60 deputies arrested three suspected Mexicans employed to empty trashcans.
The sheriff that Napolitano had teamed up with, when it suited her political agendas, was so out of control that the Arizona governor eventually cut off what funds of his she controlled through federal grants. It slowed Arpaio down not one bit.
But Napolitano, better than almost anyone, knew precisely what she was doing when she, once again, cynically climbed into bed with the sheriff to write to Michael Chertoff.
If not for Napolitano, Arpaio would—and should—have been prosecuted 10 years earlier.
* * *
The Justice Department of the United States notified the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on March 25, 1996, that Sheriff Arpaio was under investigation. In a 15-page letter, federal prosecutors laid out their concerns that Arpaio had willfully violated the constitutional rights of prisoners in his jail.
The concerns were not picayune. Arpaio was accused of excessive brutality and ignoring serious medical needs.
Napolitano, then-U.S. Attorney for Arizona, was part of the Justice Department and kept in the loop. In fact, she was copied on every piece of correspondence in the matter.
Not coincidentally, Arpaio's tactics endeared him to the voting public, which kept the sheriff's approval rating near an unprecedented 80 percent. The sheriff propelled this groundswell of support with an unending series of media pronouncements about his prisoners: "Making conditions so miserable they will never want to come back," "It's lucky [they] have food."
The sheriff bragged that he spent more on feeding the department's dogs than he spent on inmate chow. He clothed them in pink underwear, housed them in tents and worked them in chain gangs. While the conditions garnered enormous gouts of publicity, the stunts masked the brutal conditions inside the cells.
In June 1996, three months after the Justice Department's letter, Arpaio's jailers killed inmate Scott Norberg.
The following year, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno lodged an official complaint in the courts against the Arizona sheriff over the conditions in the jail.
As is common in these cases, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the sheriff in which he agreed to a long list of stipulations designed to alleviate the human misery in his cells.
But Arpaio's capitulation to the Justice Department was hailed by the sheriff, not surprisingly, as a victory over Washington bureaucrats.
If Arpaio's smug declarations were not a shock, the behavior of Napolitano was.
About to declare her own candidacy for Arizona Attorney General, Napolitano joined Arpaio at his press conference in a blatant attempt to court the sheriff's support in her upcoming race.
Napolitano declared the federal lawsuit nothing more than a "technicality" and castigated the settlement as merely "a lawyer's paper" (see the Phoenix New Times' Tony Ortega's "U.S. Lawsuit Re-Alleges Abuse in Jails," Nov. 6, 1997).