‘Meanest Sheriff’ Mad the TV Cameras Didn’t Show

The meanest sheriff in the land refuses to say whether he, personally, is a boxer or brief man – or actually prefers a thong.

But Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, happily brags about how he spends more money feeding dogs in air conditioned cells than inmates warehoused in desert tents. He gleefully waxes on about the pink boxer shorts he forces inmates to wear, and the matching handcuffs he uses on them. And he delights in noting that he pipes in only three TV stations to his prisons – the Weather Channel so inmates can see how hot they’re going to be, the Food Channel so they can salivate over the unattainable delicacies, and C-SPAN.

Mostly Sheriff Arpaio, in Colorado Springs this week to pump up John Anderson‘s campaign in the 5th Congressional District, is mad that the local stations didn’t show up and put him on TV.After all, Arpaio is a famous guy. And when a famous guy shows up, so should the cameras. Back in 1996, for example, Republican presidential hopefuls Bob Dole (whom Arpaio calls “Viagra guy”), Pete Wilson, John McCain and Bob Graham all came to the desert to take a look at Arpaio’s operation.

Arpaio actually prefers being called the term he’s adopted, which is also the name of his book: “The Toughest Sheriff in the Land.” But on Wednesday he said he’ll go along with the “meanest” moniker, as he was promoting Anderson, a former El Paso County Sheriff whom Arpaio called the “Nicest Sheriff in the Land.”

In a rambling speech to a crowd of about 50, Arpaio, whose been sheriff for 14 years, says he spends 28 cents a day to feed each of the 1,600 prisoners in his tent jails. By contrast, he spends about $1 a day feeding each of the dogs he houses in an air-conditioned jail that he has converted to a shelter for abused cats and dogs.

“We need more sheriffs in Congress,” Arpaio says. “We’ve got too many lawyers and too many lobbyists.”

Arpaio talked a lot about what he describes as innovative programs. He didn’t mention, however, the $9 million verdict against his office earlier this year, after one of his inmates died after being strapped in a restraint chair. Nor did he get around to talking about another $8.25 million settlement Mariposa County agreed to shell out in 1999, involving the death of another inmate who had been strapped in a restraint chair.

Those cases were detailed in a March 30 Phoenix New Times article by John Dougherty:

A federal jury awarded $9 million to the family and estate of a 33-year-old man who died after Maricopa County detention officers improperly strapped him in a restraint chair inside a county jail.

Mentally retarded and high on methamphetamine, Charles Agster III was forcibly placed in the chair inside the Madison Street jail by a squad of detention officers. During the struggle to harness him, which included putting a hood over his head, Agster stopped breathing and never regained consciousness.

And the 1999 settlement:

The verdict marks the second time in seven years that the county and sheriff’s office have been ordered to pay millions of dollars as a result of a lawsuit filed over the use of restraint chairs inside one of Arpaio’s lockups.

The county agreed to an out-of-court, $8.25 million settlement in January 1999, after a wrongful-death suit was brought by the family of Scott Norberg, who died while strapped into a restraint chair in 1996.

This week, Arpaio claimed that he currently has a 98 percent approval rating in Maricopa County. A group that tried, unsuccessfully, to recall him last year, however, reported far different numbers:

Sheriff Joe used to boast of 80% approval ratings amongst the voters of Maricopa County . But as the truth gets out about how he really runs one of the nations largest Sheriff’s Offices, his popularity is taking a nose dive! Currently the O’Neal survey lists his approval rating at only 35%.