News & Politics

The Day Janet Napolitano Will Never Live Down

by

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, you may have heard, is being considered for the post of Homeland Security secretary by President-Elect Barack Obama.

Earlier today, we posted a story which provides a litany of reasons why Napolitano would make a lousy candidate because of her miserable record of enabling anti-immigrant troglodytes and otherwise subverting civil rights in favor of political expediency.

The story briefly mentions one episode in the Napolitano saga that I personally witnessed, and I thought I’d spell it out a little more fully here…

At the time, I was a staff writer for the Phoenix New Times, and for
two years, I’d been reporting on America’s Most Cowardly Sheriff, a
liar and con man named Joe Arpaio who, to this day, has yahoos
convinced that he’s “tough on crime” for having inmates maimed by jail
guards as a public relations policy. One of the people I wrote about during
that time — and part of what motivated Amnesty International to
investigate the jails — was a paraplegic who was taken into custody
because he had a small amount of marijuana on him. Jail guards didn’t
like it when he requested that a jail nurse give him a catheter so he could urinate – so they pulled paralyzed man out of his wheelchair and strapped him down in a medieval torture device known as a “restraint chair,” breaking his neck.

This was how Arpaio got tough on crime. By maiming paraplegics.

For those with a more Constitution-based notion of how a county jail
works — a place where most people are only awaiting trial and therefore
are presumed to be innocent — Arpaio’s antics, always aimed purely to
get him television coverage, weren’t very entertaining. We were
heartened, therefore, to learn that the federal government had
responded to repeated cases of inmate abuse with an investigation of
Arpaio’s jail.

Some of us eagerly waited the result of that investigation, knowing
that with a Democrat in the White House, and Janet Reno actually
showing some interest in the matter, the feds could make short work of
Arpaio and his hellish jail which, his employees repeatedly told me,
not only endangered citizens serving short DUI sentences, but also
endangered the employees themselves. A finding of abuse in the jails
could mean, for example, that the feds could force Arpaio to pay for
federal monitors to watch his every move until he cleaned up his act.
And with the threat of paying the feds millions to babysit their
sheriff, even the gutless county board of supervisors would have to
act, wouldn’t they?

On that October day, Napolitano called a press conference to announce
the findings of the two-year investigation. It was her last day as the
US Attorney for Arizona, and we all knew that the next year she’d be
campaigning to become the state’s Attorney General.

What followed was truly amazing, and still stands out in the memories of other people I know who witnessed it.

My sources had told me that the investigation had found exactly what
we’d reported for years — that the jails were liability sinkholes — so
it was somewhat shocking when the press conference started and
Napolitano and Arpaio emerged to address us looking like old pals.

Napolitano went first, announcing that as a result of the
investigation, Arpaio had promised to make some improvements in his
jails. And although a federal lawsuit was being filed, she dismissed it as a mere formality. Napolitano, the federal government’s highest legal
representative in the state, actually referred to the lawsuit as just a
“lawyer’s paper,” as if it carried no more weight than an office memo
reminding everyone to dress down on Casual Friday.

The message was clear: the feds were going to do nothing about Joe’s
jails. And then it was the sheriff’s turn to talk. Was he humbled by
the investigation? Was he chastened by the “lawyer’s paper?”

While Napolitano stood by, expressionless, Arpaio launched into his
standard stump speech — the one he gives to Rotary clubs and retiree
community groups every day of the week, whether it’s an election year
or not — that he’s the Toughest Sheriff in America and nobody is going
to tell him how to run his jails.

And she just stood there, taking it.

Satisfied that Arpaio had been exonerated, the TV journalists started
taking apart their cameras, and the daily reporters headed back to file
their stories. But I stayed behind, trying to get Napolitano to answer
a simple question.

Where, I asked, were the findings? Where was this “lawyer’s paper” she
was talking about? What was the actual result of that two year
investigation?

“We’ll get it for you later,” I was told.

A couple of hours later, long after the TV cameras were gone,
Napolitano’s office turned over the actual findings of the federal investigation.

These were the things that Janet Napolitano had known about when she
stood there, before the cameras, and let Arpaio tell the world that no
one would tell him how to run his jails:

“Jail inmates are subject to use of excessive force and use of
excessive and improper mechanical restraints by Jail employees, and
Defendants fail to protect Jail inmates from such actions,” read the
report of findings. “Defendants have been consciously aware of, but
deliberately indifferent to [such use of force] for a substantial
period of time,” it continues. “Defendants have failed to address
adequately the misconduct described . . . though they consciously knew
of that misconduct. . . . Unless restrained by this Court, Defendants
will continue to engage in the conduct. . . . Such conduct and
practices have and will cause inmates confined in the Jail irreparable
harm.”

Does that sound like an exoneration?

Napolitano, in other words, had all the information she needed to crack
down on Arpaio and end early on what is now a shameful, 15-year history
of civil rights abuses in Maricopa County’s jail system. Instead, she
hid the truth from the mainstream press and stood by as Arpaio boasted
that he was doing nothing wrong.

And what did it gain Napolitano? Would it surprise you to know that a
few years later, Arpaio risked the wrath of his own Republican Party to
endorse his friend, the Democrat Janet Napolitano, in her successful
run for Governor? And that she continues, as governor, to play best
buddies with him in matters such as bullying new immigrants?

Obama, surely you can do better.