Former Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Hunt should know a thing or two about the dangers of an abusive law enforcement culture. He was a victim of now-disgraced Sheriff Mike Carona, who demoted him to deputy after Hunt ran for sheriff against Carona in 2006. Hunt even made First Amendment arguments in his unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the right of Carona to demote a deputy for criticizing him on the campaign trail.
Hunt now is running in the 2010 election against Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who was appointed by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Supervisors to replace Carona after his conviction on a federal corruption charge. Yet Hunt is embracing as a model for his administration one of the most abusive, divisive and freedom-averse law enforcement officials in the nation. I’m referring to Joe Arpaio (“Sheriff Joe,” to his throngs of admirers), the Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff who came to Orange County on Nov. 5 to stump for Hunt during a campaign fund- raiser. In October, Hunt told a Lake Forest crowd that Arpaio would be a mentor to him. “I think Joe is great,” Hunt said, as reported by Register columnist Frank Mickadeit.
Bill Hunt, candidate for Orange County Sheriff in 2010, speaks at a fundraiser at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim. The guest speaker at the event was Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio is best known for a variety of high-profile measures designed to humiliate jail inmates, appeal to zealots in the anti-illegal-immigration community and prove that he is the toughest darn sheriff in the country. His critics claim that he is the ultimate grandstander and political opportunist, and that his raids of immigrant communities and legal attacks on newspaper publishers divert precious resources from fighting serious crime in the Phoenix area.
Arpaio requires inmates wear pink underwear and even paraded them in public wearing only such undergarments. He puts women and juveniles in chain gangs. He created an outdoor tent city to house inmates. He restricted reading materials and TV for inmates and has provided meals that are the modern equivalent of bread and water.
I’m of the belief that full and occupied inmates cause less trouble for guards, but Arpaio appeals to those conservatives who believe that inmates are coddled and insufficiently punished for their crimes. He claims to be saving money by cutting back on all the jail “luxuries,” but the county has paid out $43 million in settlements and legal costs to handle the many constitutional challenges to Arpaio’s techniques. Mainly, he appears to relish the TV cameras, where he makes outrageous remarks that enrage his detractors and enthrall his supporters.
Most troubling, Arpaio has been an ardent enemy of public records and open government and has gone so far as to arrest the owners of a Phoenix-based weekly newspaper that has frequently criticized him. He arrested them for publishing confidential grand jury proceedings that showed his department’s attempt through subpoena to secure the Internet addresses and other information of all readers of the New Times publication. That’s a shocking instance of Big Brother-ism.
As Clint Bolick, a constitutional law expert at the conservative Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, explained in a radio commentary: “The subpoena reportedly is based on New Times’ publication of Arpaio’s home address, which allegedly is a crime. … [T]he subpoena is breathtakingly broad – and in the view of some First Amendment experts – unprecedented in scope. When a publication is critical of elected officials … prosecutors should tread very carefully so as not to chill vital First Amendment protections. It is difficult to conceive any wrong that could justify such a sweeping inquiry, not only into the files of New Times but into the Internet browsing habits of tens of thousands of innocent readers.” The county prosecutor eventually dropped charges and admitted serious mistakes, but the event displayed the mindset of Arpaio.
Furthermore, Latino activists raise a reasonable objection to Arpaio’s targeting of Latino neighborhoods for broad immigration sweeps. There’s something terribly wrong about allowing deputies to demand the papers of anyone suspected of being here illegally. That means, obviously, that anyone who looks Mexican can be subject to harassment. Arpaio’s deputies are known to arrest “people with brown skin for the most stupid of offenses – honking their horn, having a taillight out, not signaling when they change lanes,” Phoenix magazine columnist Jana Bommersbach said.
Of course, those people who love Sheriff Joe claim he only is enforcing the laws, which, of course, is the same thing Sheriff Hutchens claims as she cracks down on holders of concealed-weapons permits and their gun rights. On a practical note, Arpaio is under investigation by the FBI for alleged vendettas against his political enemies, so it’s odd that Hunt – who was one of the early voices warning about Carona – would hitch his wagon to Arpaio.
This is a disappointment. At first blush, Hunt appears to understand that the prime role of the county sheriff is to uphold the Constitution. “It is my belief that the sheriff should be in the business of protecting people’s rights, not restricting them,” Hunt explains on his Web site. He pledges to “issue concealed-weapons permits to any applicant who is a law-abiding resident of the county, meets state-mandate requirements and is not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.” Unfortunately, Hunt’s concern for the Constitution doesn’t go much beyond the Second Amendment, if Arpaio is the model.
I’m not quick to throw around the term “racist,” as do many anti-Arpaio activists. But consider what Arpaio said during his speech at the Hunt fund-raiser: “I apologize for the protesters outside. They go wherever I go. If you know a good Mexican restaurant, go and tell them where it is. I know in Phoenix I can’t go to a Mexican restaurant. When I walk in, most of the workers run out the back door or spit in my food.”
What do you make of that racially tinged rhetoric? It’s not healthy, especially in a diverse place such as Orange County, which is currently epitomized by its overall lack of racial and ethnic hostility.
I’ve been (and remain) a critic of the current sheriff, who has turned a blind eye to the code of silence among deputies and has been irrationally hostile to gun rights and gun owners. But anyone who believes that Sheriff Joe is a model for modern policing has no business being in the race for sheriff.
Steven Greenhut is director of the Pacific Research Institute’s Journalism Center. Write to him at [email protected].