If I really wanted to grow Rogue's readership, this post would be something like "Ten Reasons Do(w)nton Abbey Sucks" (1. All the white guys look alike, can't tell a footman from a nobleman...). But no, we'll stick with the serious stuff in the antique essay form.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Dennis Wagner wrote a fine piece of public-service journalism last week. It shows what the Arizona Republic would be capable of doing if its corporate masters at Gannett would allow it to commit more journalism and do less fad chasing.
It turns out that the FBI gave federal prosecutors all they needed to bring serious criminal charges against the High Sheriff for Life of Maricopa County, the ambitious right-wing county attorney, Andrew Peyton Thomas, and their top stooges.
The three-year investigation of abuse of power produced "found probable cause to recommend felony counts of obstructing criminal investigations of prosecutions, theft by threats, tampering with witnesses, perjury and theft by extortion."
Instead, the feds shut down the three-year investigation in August 2012.
Let me pause to note that this story didn't come from "crowdsourcing," "citizen journalists" or video and slide shows. It came from good, street-smart, shoe-leather investigative journalism, including the newspaper using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain all records of the investigation.
What the feds coughed up, in this post Dick Cheney era, was 93 pages of heavily redacted records. Even so, "the report makes clear that FBI agents believed evidence was strong enough to prosecute some of those under investigation."
I urge you to read the entire story.
One striking feature is that this investigation concerned only the Peyton and the High Sheriff's vendetta against members of the board of county supervisors. Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley were targeted in probes that fell apart. Stapley, indicted and arrested, won a $3.5 million settlement. As of January, this vendetta has cost taxpayers at least $44.4 million.
It didn't involve racial profiling or alleged abuse of immigrants by the Sheriff's Office. It didn't look at the condition of the jails or the many suspicious deaths in the hands of the High Sheriff's Gaolers. These involve the poor and marginalized, so why should Christian-y Maricopa County care.
Nor does it get at the primary tasks of the High Sheriff: Acting as an officer of the court, serving warrants, operating his jails in a safe, humane and efficient way, criminal investigations (e.g. sex crimes left to languish) or patrol duties (e.g., response times suffering because of "immigrant sweeps" and other police state theater.
But even here, where the High Sheriff and Peyton went after the wrong people — better off and politically connected — no charges.
It's enough to make one think the pair worked on the side for Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase.
I contrast this with the situation in Seattle, where a federal probe looked at allegations of excessive force by the police. Even though the results were inconclusive, the U.S. Attorney pushed on and the city immediately caved to Justice Department oversight. This has roiled city politics ever since, costing one police chief his job and doing in the interim chief.
But the High Sheriff and Peyton got away with it. Why?
Attorney General Eric Holder has not exactly been vigorous in going after evildoers. Perhaps the administration didn't want to do something that would cause Republicans to reopen their attacks on the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning fiasco (such misfires never happen under GOP presidents, after all). Or it labors under the fantasy that Arizona could turn purple if it just played nice. Did the Secretary of Das Homeland Sicherheitsdienst at the time intervene to help her onetime ally, the High Sheriff?
We may never know because no one has been called to account.
Probable cause for criminal charges? If this happened to you or me or, especially, the minority teenager that grabbed some cash from a convenience-store register drawer — we'd be in the hoosegow. But not these people. Not now, apparently not ever. There is no "red line" the High Sheriff cannot cross.
We can't blame the press for this one. In this case, the Republic fulfilled its duty to the public trust. New Times spent years cataloging the malpractice of MCSO. The East Valley Tribune won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for its examination of the department's slowed response times and excessive overtime costs while Nickel-Bag Joe played la migra.
But the old Anglos, given the option of high-quality alternatives in every election, keep returning the High Sheriff to power.
At least the corruption of Chicago and other places back east often results in great city-building. Here, it is simply a war on the poor and the other. An endless set of real-estate rackets. A laboratory for national right-wing battles. The Kookocracy. And I suspect these fine journalists have only peeled back one layer of this stinking onion.
The cruel irony is that the forebears of the High Sheriff and the deportation-happy former Secretary of Das Homeland Sicherheitsdienst were part of a class of immigrants that was poor, low-skilled, despised and exploited. The largest mass-lynching in American history was committed against 11 Italians in New Orleans in 1891.