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Week of 3.27.09

Transcript: The People's Sheriff

BRANCACCIO: Who says you can't find unanimity in America: everyone agrees that America's immigration policies are broken. There's much less agreement over what to do about it. And when a local sheriff starts taking on the enforcement powers of the federal government, the results can be controversial.

That's what our colleagues at "Exposé" found when they learned that a local newspaper down around Phoenix, Arizona, was taking a hard look at what the county sheriff was—and was not doing—in the name of immigration enforcement. "Exposé" producer Peter Nicks has the story with narrator Sylvia Chase

CHASE: Maricopa County, Arizona. Including Phoenix and beyond, it is one of the largest counties in America....more populous than 24 individual states. It's known for its good living, its warm desert climate, and, increasingly, immigrants coming north across the border.

RYAN GABRIELSON: These push pins are—represent traffic stops that resulted in criminal immigration arrests by the sheriff's office. We document the date, time and type of locations where they made the arrest. U.S. 60, which is right here. It's this yellow line right here. It heads directly to California, which is the main hub for illegal immigrant transportation.

PAUL GIBLIN: Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies will tell you that if they had enough man power they could arrest one smuggling vehicle every hour, every night of the week.

CHASE: The man behind the immigration enforcement has been the county's chief law officer for over 16 years.

JOE ARPAIO: I am the elected sheriff, and the only people I report to are the 4 million people, that we know of, that live in this county.

CHASE: Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been known for his tough approach to crime...not just the substance...but the style.

MAYOR PHIL GORDON: I think one of his first things, uh, w-was making his—the prisoners wear pink underwear.

HECTOR YTURRALDE: He came to the conclusion one day that, uh, the inmates were stealing, uh-uh-uh, county-issued underwear. Uh, so therefore he decided to dye all the underwear that was issued, along with their, uh, overalls, pink.

CHASE: Time and again, the sheriff and the media spotlight have found each other.

GLEN BECK: ...You're the only one in America that has a chain gang left, right?

JOE ARPAIO: Well, we're the only ones in the history of the world to put females on a chain gang. I'm an equal opportunity guy.

PAUL GIBLIN: I used to do some freelance work for AFP which is the French news wire, and they gave me a call one day and they said, "Well, your sheriff down there, Joe Arpaio, is putting women in chain gangs and he's going to have them out in the streets picking up litter next Saturday" and I said, "Now wait a minute; I have to know—how does the French news agency know about this event?" And they said, "Well, how else? He sent us a press release."

LOU DOBBS: One Arizona sheriff is famous for cracking down on illegal immigration while the federal government refuses to do much of anything. . . almost nothing. Sheriff Joe Arpaio....

CHASE: But not everyone is full of praise.

HECTOR YTURRALDE: In our eyes they're stopping you for-for what you—for how you look like, uh, for how you appear, instead of having reasonable doubt in breaking a crime.

CHASE: Critics like activist Hector Yturralde charge that the sheriff isn't just enforcing the law any more...he's ignoring federal guidelines against racial profiling.

What do federal guidelines have to do with a local sheriff? Plenty.

In 2007, "Sheriff Joe," as he is known around here, partnered with the U.S. immigration and customs enforcement—"ice,"—under a law that grants local sheriff's deputies authority to enforce federal immigration law. One hundred sixty of Arpaio's deputies have the right to do just that.

That concerns those in the community who believe that when it comes to immigration enforcement, the sheriff's department goes too far. People like Phoenix mayor, Phil Gordon.

MAYOR PHIL GORDON: One of my own staff members that's worked for me since she was in high school a third generation American—and her husband, uh, were what is called off-road, uh, trucking in the desert. And admittedly came, uh, upon a closed road, used it together with five other couples that they didn't know, uh, to turn around and go back into the area that was open. But a sheriff's deputy stopped all six of them. The first five were asked, uh, to show their driver's license and, uh, were let go. Uh, the sixth was asked to show their social security card, and, uh, given a ticket. And the only difference was their last name, which was Rodriguez.

CHASE: Arpaio issued a press release asserting his officer did not profile Mayor Gordon's aide. In fact in every case, Sheriff Arpaio adamantly denies racial profiling.

JOE ARPAIO: I don't know what this argument is with profile, because everybody's treated the same. When we stop somebody, I don't care what you are—for violating the law. That comes first. That comes first. They call me a racist, they call me a KKK, put my pictures on the, uh, tube, they call me a Nazi, they call me every name in the book.

CHASE: There's another name a lot of Maricopa county residents call him: hero.

ARPAIO SUPPORTER: The Sheriff is doing a wonderful job. He's the only real public servant that I see doing anything to enforce immigration law.

ARPAIO SUPPORTER: This is my country and I want people living here that are legal.

CHASE: In early 2008, a local newspaper decided it was time to give the sheriff's office some local attention... the East Valley Tribune.

RYAN GABRIELSON: Ok, well we'll compile the reporting and you'll bang it out, right? Excellent. I like this plan.

CHASE: The goal: to see what was going on behind the praise—and accusations—the sheriff so readily attracts.

PROTESTER: U.S. imperialist racist!

PAUL GIBLIN: Sir...

PROTESTER: U.S. imperialist racist!

PAUL GIBLIN: ...I'm a reporter with the Tribune

PROTESTER: Oh, I thought you were a cop

PAUL GIBLIN: No, I'm not a cop . . .

PAUL GIBLIN: So we started asking him broad questions. Uh, the people you're capturing—where are they coming from? Where are they headed to? But they couldn't tell us with any authority what they were doing. Um, the reason they couldn't tell us with any authority is that they never created a database to—to compile all the statistics.

CHASE: So the reporters filed public-records requests with the sheriff's department and other county offices. They hoped to determine just who was being arrested, and the probable cause given for stopping their cars in the first place.

RYAN GABRIELSON: And so we documented, of course, names and birthdates, but also what was the ethnicity and the race of the people?

PAUL GIBLIN: We worked from these arrest records to compile individual stats sheets on all the suspects. This entire notebook is suspects.

CHASE: Page by page, the reporters analyzed a year and a half's worth of arrest documents.

They found that Arpaio's human-smuggling unit had arrested 669 people for immigration violations. Two were Native American, and two were white. 665 were Hispanic.

Nearly 600 of the arrests occurred after motorists had been stopped on various charges, including driving with a broken tail light, and speeding.

PAUL GIBLIN: They will tell you that's good law enforcement, we're arresting illegal immigrants and they, of course, are Hispanic. But if you ask them further well how many cars did you pull over for a busted tail lights and the occupants weren't Hispanic, they couldn't come up with that number.

CHASE: The reporters also homed in on the sheriff's controversial, large scale immigration sweeps. They had started in 2007.

RYAN GABRIELSON: These massive sweeps had begun in October, garnering national attention, uh, because he was sending hundreds of his deputies and, uh, posse volunteers to go make dozens and dozens of traffic stops in Hispanic neighborhoods.

CHASE: The small Maricopa town of Guadalupe has a $1.2 million annual contract with Arpaio's office to provide law enforcement services. In 2008 the town had seen a rise in drug dealing. City officials would tell The Tribune they asked the sheriff for increased patrols specifically to address the drug problem.

RYAN GABRIELSON: There were protesters from both sides, because the operation was announced in advance in a press release.

CHASE: Arpaio's press release, though, didn't mention the town's drug issue at all. It asserted he was coming because tensions were—quote—"escalating between illegal aliens and town residents."

He called it a "crime suppression operation." Others called it an immigration sweep.

RYAN GABRIELSON: Which was basically loading hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members in patrol cars and unmarked vehicles on the street, on the main thoroughfare through Guadalupe stopping pretty much every vehicle that was on the road that day for minor traffic violations. Using those stops to question people about their citizenship.

CHASE: Guadalupe's then-mayor, Rebecca Jimenez squared off with Sheriff Arpaio the first night of the sweep.

JOE ARPAIO: I came over here to protect your community from crime. We have arrested 26 criminals, only 5 are illegal.

REBECCA JIMENEZ, GUADALUPE MAYOR: Your press release . . .

JOE ARPAIO: I don't care what the press release . . . no it says to suppress crime. See it?

REBECCA JIMENEZ: It says that town officials say tensions are escalating between illegal aliens and town residents. That is untrue. That is untrue.

JOE ARPAIO: Yes it is. Because 3 of the very serious crimes here . . .

REBECCA JIMENEZ: Town officials did not say that, Mr. Arpaio.

JOE ARPAIO: Forget the press release.

REBECCA JIMENEZ: This is what you gave to all the press.

JOE ARPAIO: That doesn't matter. Actions will speak. Now you said you don't want us back here tomorrow? Is that what you said? Well, we will be back here tomorrow, full force.

REBECCA JIMENEZ: I figured you would.

JOE ARPAIO: One more thing, if you don't like the way I operate, you go get your own police department. You got 90 days to cancel your contract. 90 days. You wanna cancel it, feel free to do it.

REBECCA JIMENEZ: We'll look in to that.

CHASE: In the Maricopa town of El Mirage, the reporters got a lesson in what a community might learn when it did end its contract with the Sheriff's office.

El Mirage used to rely solely on Arpaio for law enforcement, paying over a million dollars a year for the service.

When the town started its own police force in 2007, town authorities requested the el mirage crime records from the Maricopa county sheriff's office.

PAUL GIBLIN: We could go there and see what the, uh, Sheriff's Department did before the police showed up and what happened after the El Mirage police department showed up.

CHASE: The reporters went through boxes of arrest reports.

PAUL GIBLIN: And one thing that kept coming back to us as we were going through these arrest reports were all these rapes. And Ryan and I sat across the, uh, table from each other looking at all these police reports and I said, "Ryan, are you looking at the same thing I am?"

CHASE: The Tribune would confirm and report that in El Mirage Arpaio's force did little or no investigation on at least 30 violent crime cases, including a dozen reported sexual assaults, during 2006 and 2007....

PAUL GIBLIN: In many instances the El Mirage police department tried investigating these crimes 18 months later; they couldn't find the victims; they couldn't find the suspects. Uh, the Sheriff's Department let them drop.

CHASE: Meanwhile, the paper would say, just a few miles from the town, 15 detectives were doing little else but scouring roadways for cars filled with people who'd entered the United States without permission.

There were more examples suggesting that the Sheriff's immigration work might be affecting its overall law enforcement work.

The East Valley Tribune's study of overtime payments to officers showed that large scale immigration enforcement contributed to the sheriff's 1.3 million dollar budget deficit in 2007. The paper also examined emergency response times.

On the night of March 18, 2008, two gunmen robbed Betty Mar's grocery store in Guadalupe. They brandished weapons and demanded money from the young woman working the night shift.

RYAN GABRIELSON: One of the employees hit the silent alarm button which should trigger a response from the sheriff's office immediately, which is you know, from 300 yards away they normally would arrive within 2 or 3 minutes.

CHASE: A sheriff's station was not far down the street...the robbers got away.

The Sheriff's office told the paper that a patrol car reached the scene 17 minutes after the alarm was triggered. The store's clerk said it took 45 minutes.

BETTY MAR: You know, there for a while I was thinking, do I need to hire a security guard—you know—what do I need to do—because, you know, we kind of feel helpless around here.

CHASE: Was the store owner's complaint an aberration? Once again the reporters crunched numbers they had obtained directly from the sheriff's office through public-records requests, not just in Guadalupe, but throughout Maricopa County.

RYAN GABRIELSON: This line represents the beginning of immigration enforcement by the Maricopa County sheriff's office. As the sheriff's office transferred resources from one patrol district to another, and into human smuggling, response times in a lot of districts just seemed to go haywire.

PAUL GIBLIN: National standards are five minutes, a lot of law enforcement agencies try and get there in four minutes or less, and if you're a victim and you're in a house and someone's robbing you and has a gun in your face, you're thinking four minutes is a long time. After they started their push on illegal immigration, the response times went way up, in some instances up to 15 minutes.

CHASE: The sheriff's office told the East Valley Tribune that increased focus on immigration enforcement was not to blame for increased response times.

In July of 2008, the Tribune published its findings in a series called "reasonable doubt."

The reaction was immediate. A few praised the paper...

...I just wanted to call and applaud you for the articles you did last week...

...Joe Arpaio is making Arizona into a police state.


CHASE: But most praised "Sheriff Joe" ...I wish this paper would just leave him alone, let him do what he's supposed to he's the only one that is...

...since Sheriff Joe started his illegal sweeps, people like me are getting their jobs back...

...it's just kind of sad to think that the only one that's really doing any job around here is Sheriff Joe....actually doing what the majority of the people want and yet your paper is just tearing him apart every day

...we just need more of Sheriff Joe...


JOE ARPAIO: I get tons of letters, tons—I got stacks of—today. Everything is positive—I got one bad one today...

CHASE: In July 2008, Hector Yturralde's group, Somos America, joined others in a class-action lawsuit accusing the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office of racial profiling. The case is in Arizona district court.

In September, the East Valley Tribune reported that three federal agencies—ICE, the Government Accountability Office, and the FBI, were examining the sheriff's department's immigration enforcement practices.

As for Joe Arpaio himself? In November 2008, he was up for re-election to a fifth term.

NEWS REPORTER: Good morning, sir. I want to know, how the results of this election speak to you?

JOE ARPAIO: It's another victory. I'm going to continue to fight for the people. And for those critics out there, I'm going to make this promise right now, this is not my last campaign.

CHASE: That wasn't his last television appearance, either.

[clip from Arpaio's reality show]

CHASE: In fact, in early 2009, Sheriff Joe debuted in his own cable TV reality show.

ARPAIO: Take these fugitives off the street.

[clip from Arpaio's reality show]

BRANCACCIO: You can be sure Sheriff Arpaio has some strong thoughts on these issues. The Sheriff spoke with NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa earlier this week.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Sheriff, can you understand when critics say, "We may appreciate what the Sheriff does in terms of undocumented immigrants, but we really wish that he'd be focusing on tracking down the burglars and the rapists."

SHERIFF ARPAIO: We—we arrest a lot of rapists. We—we just arrested two—murderers in the past couple of days. Every day we are arresting rapists, murderers. And by the way, during the course of our crime suppression—we did grab three people—that raped—illegals that raped—young girls. So, we do—we are successful in our law enforcement activities.

MARIA HINOJOSA: It has been discovered by the—by the East Valley Tribune that your response rates to crimes—that you have wanted your response—you have said that your response rate goal is five minutes. It's now up to 11 minutes.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: No. No, it is not. We have improved that. This is a year, a year and a half ago. You're getting all your information from the New York Times editorial, from a newspaper.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Well, this is the East Valley Tribune.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: I don't care what the East Valley newspaper says.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Did the East Valley newspaper do a Freedom of Information Act request on your files? So, that they could do a report?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Well, I'm sure they did. And we responded.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, I want you to just very specifically answer to that question. They found that in the period of time of last year, your goal for response was five minutes. In reality, if you're saying it was a year ago, it was 11 minutes.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: It depends how you—record it. Let me say this. What people have to understand. We got 9,200 square miles in this county. We have one deputy patrolling 200 square miles. You can't respond in five minutes, when you get a call that's 100 miles away. It takes a little time.

MARIA HINOJOSA: But you had problems with your response time? It was not where you wanted it to be?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Well, nothing is ever perfect in law enforcement.

MARIA HINOJOSA: When you were in charge of the town of El Mirage in 2006 and 2007. There were 30 violent crime cases, including a dozen rapes and sexual assaults. And they went uninvestigated?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Well, you know—that's another issue. That's—we were not in charge—per se. We went in there to help reorganize that police department. They still had their own police. And we had ours. It's a very difficult type of—environment to have two law enforcement agencies in the same place. We're looking at that. We're looking at—why—what occurred—during the—time we were there. Whether it was a breakdown—in our operation or theirs. So, that's something we're looking at.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, you admit that there may have been a problem with what was happening with the sheriff's department?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: We're—we're looking into it. Yes.

MARIA HINOJOSA: I have another statistic that I'd like you to look at, and respond to. This—this one's saying that homicide, the homicide percentage rate, in Maricopa County, in all the districts—jurisdictions, has increased from 2004 to now, about 160 percent.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: A lot of our homicides are people dumped in the desert, skeletons, versus murders in a in a—urban area, where the body is still fresh. So, some of these homicides that you're talking about, very difficult to solve. But we've always been very good in our—in our homicide investigations. So, you're looking at statistics that—and statistics can be twisted certain areas—certain ways. We all know that.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, I'm gonna go back to the East Valley Tribune. In your records, out of 669 people arrested by your Human Smuggling Unit. 665 of them were Latinos. Most of them stopped for traffic violations. So, how do you explain that?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Are you talking about our great—success we have in arresting illegal aliens?

MARIA HINOJOSA: No, I'm asking you a very specific question.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: What is the question?

MARIA HINOJOSA: It seems as if, by your own numbers, that hundreds upon hundreds of Latinos had violated the traffic code. While only four non-Latinos had violated the traffic code.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: We stop many people on traffic violations. That's what law enforcement does.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, you're stopping all of them?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Of course.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Can we see those records?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: I don't know—

MARIA HINOJOSA: That show us?

SHERIFF ARPAIO: —if I had—no, I don't know if I have the breakdown in those records.

MARIA HINOJOSA: But how are we supposed to be able to judge you if we don't have a breakdown of those records.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Well, just take my word for it. And look at the success that we have had.

MARIA HINOJOSA: But there are people who question your success, Sheriff.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Well, ok, let 'em question it.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So we should just trust you when you say, "Look, I've got all the statistics and things are in order. Trust me."

SHERIFF ARPAIO: No, I'm not—I—I don't have all the—first of all, I don't like statistics.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Do you have a problem, Sheriff, when these kinds of statistics come out? It seems to me that you pull back a little bit.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: No, I'm not pulling back. You're talking about statistics. I don't have all the statistics. You're showing me statistics on a report. Okay?

MARIA HINOJOSA: From the F.B.I.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: So—so—well, you—you talk about the F.B.I. Who gives the FBI the information? I—I think a lot of that is our information, too. But—you saying I'm pulling back. I'm only pulling back, because I don't have all the answers on these statistics.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, respond to this, which is a fact. The Department of Justice is now investigating your team for unconstitutional searches and seizures and discrimination against citizens based on national origin.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: They want to investigate me, come on down. I've been saying a year and a half to come down here. Maybe we both may learn something.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Are you saying that you are 100 percent sure that under every circumstance you are not breaking any federal civil laws.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Let me say this, nothing is100 percent in life, ok? But I feel very comfortable with the way we operate. And they can come, I'm sure not going to jail. I—I'm sure all these activists are praying that I will go to jail. I'm not going to jail.

MARIA HINOJOSA: The Goldwater Institute.

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Uh-huh.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Conservative think tank. Released a report saying that your office has "diverted resources away from basic law enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration. And ineffective in reducing crime, generally."

SHERIFF ARPAIO: It's garbage. We—we—we are—a total law enforcement agency. We arrest everybody.

MARIA HINOJOSA: When critics, your critics, say, "Yeah, but the Sheriff is a bully."

SHERIFF ARPAIO: Uh-oh.

MARIA HINOJOSA: "He's a real bully."

SHERIFF ARPAIO: That's—that's sad. That is sad. I'm not a bully. I have a soft heart, when people get to know me. But I don't want everybody to think I have a soft heart. I want to think that we got a tough Sheriff.

BRANCACCIO: The discussion over the right way to deal with illegal immigration continues online with our now interactive debate.

Two guests, seven questions, sharp rebuttals, and a chance to add your own point of view. Getting a ringside seat is easy. Just let pbs.org lead you to our site.

And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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