Monday, February 09, 2009

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Makes Arizona a Laughing-Stock

Arizona's recent claims to fame have included the Cardinals' improbable and heart-wrenching trip to the Super Bowl and a mammoth budget deficit that has led the State Legislature to make sizeable cuts in education, health care and public services. But the state's perennial national blemish is none other than four-time re-elected sheriff of Maricopa County, the infamous Joe Arpaio, better known simply as Sheriff Joe.

Sheriff Joe is known to his supporters as "America's Toughest Sheriff," and to his many detractors, including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Arizona Ecumenical Council, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League as an alarming public official, prone to flirting with human rights violations in order to maintain his "tough" reputation. Famous examples of his flouting prisoner's rights include reinstating the archaic practice of chain-gangs, feeding prisoners just twice a day and with expired food, housing them in tents that can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona summers, and obliging them to wear pink underwear emblazoned with the words "Go Joe."

In 2005, Sheriff Joe forced 700 maximum-security prisoners to march four blocks between jails in nothing but pink boxer-shorts and flip-flops. His excuse was that he didn't want the inmates to be able to hide weapons in their clothes, but the march served as just another publicity stunt to dehumanize and disgrace the detainees.

Recently, Sheriff Joe has been at his best. In an exploit that caused the Huffington Post to name Arpaio its "unconscionable idiot of the week," he arranged massive media coverage and on Feb. 4 paraded 200 undocumented immigrants dressed in old-fashioned striped prison garb and shackles from the county jail to Tent City, where they will await trial. That's right: none of the hundreds of detainees has even been sentenced yet. Arpaio claimed that the event was a "cost-saver," an excuse I can't even begin to fathom. How is outfitting 200 untried men in new prison uniforms and orchestrating a full-fledged media circus a cost-saver?

With Sheriff Joe's notorious dearth of transparency, we'll probably never understand that excuse. But even so, when has cutting costs ever justified gross Constitutional and human-rights violations? The New York Times called Arpaio "off the rails" in a Feb. 5 editorial about the incident. If one county's sheriff is drawing the notice and antipathy of the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States, then Arizona has a major public relations problem.

To add insult to injury, Sheriff Joe stars in a reality television show on Fox Reality. "Smile… You're Under Arrest!" aired Dec. 27, 2008. The show's premise is that people with outstanding warrants are hoodwinked into presenting themselves for arrest, with stunts like fake movie casting calls or fashion shows. At the end of each episode, Sheriff Joe and his costars arrest the unwitting crooks.

Clearly, Arpaio has a strong taste for publicity at others' expense. But he's an elected official and as such, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. How does the sheriff of the fourth-most-populated county in the nation have time for a television show? Still, he manages to fulfill his other self-proclaimed duties, chief among them barefacedly breaching prisoner's rights and terrorizing undocumented migrants.

And here we come to why residents of Maricopa County continue, unfathomably, to re-elect Sheriff Joe. He is "tough on illegal immigration." Well, yes, but Joe McCarthy was famously "tough on Communism." Toughness does not indicate sound policy, and Arpaio is nothing more than a dangerous buffoon whose fear-mongering will do little to improve Arizona in the long run. All he will really do is make himself, and our fair state, a national laughing-stock. Thanks, Joe!

Son of Former Sheriff Steve Whitmill Charged with Impersonating Officer

The son of a former sheriff has been charged with impersonating an undercover drug task force officer after allegedly threatening to arrest a man during the weekend.

Dustin Evan Whitmill, 22, was charged after allegedly threatening to take a man to jail Saturday night if he did not provide them with information about illegal drug activity, according to a police report.

Whitmill’s father is former Washington County Sheriff Steve Whitmill.

Facing different charges are brothers Andrew and Brian Wesoloski, both 23.

A neighbor of Dustin Whitmill’s asked Whitmill and the others not to drive around recklessly and Dustin Whitmill was reported to have said, “Do you know who I am?” He then identified himself as the former sheriff’s son, presented identification and said he worked for the 4th Judicial Drug Task Force, the police report said.

The neighbor told a police dispatcher the men were intoxicated and said the Wesoloski brothers had threatened him with guns. The three men were later arrested on U.S. 71, the report said.

Dustin Whitmill worked as a jailer for the Washington County Detention Center for just more than a week in February 2006 but is no longer employed with the sheriff’s office, a spokeswoman for the county said. She was not able to give details on why he left the position, she said.

Dustin Whitmill faces preliminary charges of criminal impersonation, criminal use of a prohibited weapon, first-degree false imprisonment and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Both Wesoloski brothers face preliminary charges of aggravated assault, first-degree false imprisonment and criminal use of a prohibited weapon, while Andrew Wesoloski was also arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

All three men could face enhanced sentencing if convicted under the state’s anti-gang laws for “engaging in violent criminal group activity.”

Steve Whitmill resigned from his sheriff’s position in March 2004 after accepting a security job with Tyson Foods Inc. He had been elected sheriff in 2000.

Dustin Whitmill was released from Washington County Detention Center Sunday after posting bail on a $15,000 bond, while the Wesoloski brothers remained in jail Monday.

Arraignment Held for Former Deputy Marc Diaz Accused of Rape

On Friday, the former Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy accused of raping a woman in La Quinta on Saturday pled not guilty to the charges. 35-year old Marc Diaz of Indio was arraigned on charges of kidnapping to commit rape, and two counts of rape under the threat of the authority of a public official. If convicted, he could face life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

The arraignment took place at the same Indio courthouse where the nine-year veteran of the sheriff's department once worked. Diaz is accused of walking into a business in the 78-000 block of Highway 111, and displaying a law enforcement badge. He then allegedly ordered a woman into his pickup truck, and drove her to a secluded place near Washington Street and Country Club Drive, where he raped her.

We've also learned more about Diaz's 2004 arrest on suspicion of hiring a prostitute. According to Indio police, the solicitation took place on June 25, 2004, near Bliss and Oasis streets. But today, the Riverside District Attorney's office said it did not file charges because of insufficient evidence.

On the rape charges, Diaz is being held on $1 million dollars bail and has requested a public defender. A felony settlement conference is set for February 19th. Meantime, the Coachella Valley Unified School District continues to have no comment on reports that Diaz worked for that district.

Former Trooper Mark Lemieux Pleads Guilty to Extortion


A former state trooper has pleaded guilty to using extortion to collect drug debts and conspiring to distribute the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

The U.S. Attorney's office says Mark Lemieux of Norfolk pleaded guilty Monday, the first day of his trial in federal court. He faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $1.25 million in fines when he is sentenced May 21.

Lemieux and three others, including a retired state trooper, were arrested in May 2007 on charges they participated in an Oxycontin ring.

Joseph Catanese, who had worked with Lemieux on a police task force targeting drug dealers, pleaded guilty last fall in a deal with prosecutors to using extortion to collect drug debts and conspiring to obstruct justice.

Tara Drummey of Norfolk and Patrick McCarthy of Yarmouth also have pleaded guilty in the case. Drummey was sentenced to more than three years in prison and McCarthy to nearly 3 1/2 years.


Police Investigator Matthew Sullivan Accused of DWI


A State Police Investigator has been arrested after being accused of driving under the influence.

State Police say Investigator Matthew Sullivan's BAC was.09 when he was pulled over for speeding in Remsen Friday night. Sullivan, also the Director of the Great American Irish Festival, is a 19 year veteran of the State Police and assigned to Troop D. He has been charged with DWI and has been suspended with pay.


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