The Arizona Two-Step: A Tale of a Pair of Dusty Old Sheriffs

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One longtime Arizona sheriff--let's call him "Sheriff A" for ease of reference--is currently under investigation by federal authorities for failing to adequately cooperate in a civil rights investigation. The Justice Department last year was forced to sue the veteran lawman to enforce its rights. That lawsuit is pending. In addition, last October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Sheriff A was depriving pre-trial detainees of their constitutional rights. The resolution of that case, too, is pending

Meanwhile, last July, a Pima County Superior Court judge ordered a contempt hearing against Sheriff A to proceed after the law enforcement official failed or refused to turn over certain documents as part of a local investigation into what some believe are substantial financial irregularities and mismanagement within Sheriff A's office. That case also is pending. The resultant controversy, however, didn't stop Sheriff A from campaigning around the country last fall for candidates who agree with his views on immigration.  

To get a sense of the local concerns facing Sheriff A, here's part of a May 2010 report from the Arizona Republic: 

County budget officials believe money from the sheriff's detention fund may have paid for operations not required by state law. The money comes from a jail-excise tax approved by voters and its use is restricted. Using county human-resources data, information from a racial-profiling lawsuit and conversations with Barkell, officials believe that many sheriff's employees are not working in the same job assignments recorded for them in county records. If jail tax dollars were used to fund staffers performing duties not allowed under the tax, officials said, the money would have to be paid back. The magnitude of the problem ranges from $500,000 to a worst-case scenario of $50 million if the problem stretches to 2006.

Another longtime Arizona sheriff--let's call him "Sheriff D"--also has a penchant for making headlines, sometimes for the wrong reasons and often over matters involving immigration.  But he has no such material pending lawsuits against him or his office by federal or state authorities. Or at least none that I could find. There are no public allegations from the Justice Department, for example, that Sheriff D failed to enforce the Constitution; no federal appeals court order confirming a trial judge's ruling that he's currently in violation of the law. But on January 8th, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, Sheriff D said this:

 "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," said the sheriff. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry...

"There's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol... People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."

So guess which sheriff a Utah anti-immigration group, and many conservatives and Tea Party members in Arizona and elsewhere, now want to "indict" and recall from office? No, it's not Sheriff A, Maricopa County's famous Joe Arpaio, whose public finances have been questioned by local authoities, whose law enforcement tactics had been deemed violative of the Constitution by the federal courts, and who proudly boasted last year (on Twitter, no less) that he gave Sarah Palin a pair of pink panties. Instead, it's Sheriff D, as in Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

Why? Because on January 8th "Sheriff Dupnik engaged in shameless political grandstanding, a lack of objectivity and was out of line," said Dan Baltes, whose group is leading the charge against the 50-year veteran of public service. "As one [group] member put it, 'The Sheriff has forever sullied his office, his badge and department.'" When asked about his politics, Baltes said over the weekend: "I believe the Constitution is the governing document for our country. In that regard it is my opinion that adhering to the Constitution would be the center and what we should strive for as an expectation."

Shameless political grandstanding ... sullying a sheriff's office and department ... failing to "adhere" to the Constitution.... Hey, folks, are you sure you are trying to kick out the right lawman?

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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