A high-ranking officer inside the office of Arizona's controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio has laid out a detailed case alleging potentially criminal corruption at the highest levels of the department.
In a 63-page memorandum sent to Arpaio and obtained by Phoenix's Channel 12 News and the Arizona Republic, Deputy Chief Frank Munnell alleges that the department's number-two officer, Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, used the department's anti-corruption unit to spy on political rivals.
Munnell's memo "describes an oppressive work environment in which Hendershott is alleged to have threatened and retaliated against subordinates who questioned him and browbeat others into refusing to cooperate with federal and state investigations into the Sheriff's Office," reports the Republic.
The deputy chief reportedly threatened to "machine-gun" his subordinates when they balked at carrying out a politically-motivated surveillance, the Los Angeles Times reports.
During a dispute between Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Hendershott ordered the anti-corruption unit to write out a search warrant the officers felt was unjustified. An angry Hendershott reportedly replaced some of the unit's leaders soon afterward, Munnell alleges.
It is this dispute that is believed to be at the heart of a grand jury probe into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the office Arpaio heads and one of the largest sheriff's department in the country.
Munnell also alleges that a fund the department set up to "burnish" its image was, in fact, a political slush fund for Arpaio, and it ended up paying for two ads against Arpaio's rival in the 2008 election, the Times reports.
"It has been the pattern and practice of this unit to conduct politically motivated investigations at the implicit direction of Hendershott," Munnell asserts.
"If the feds and those in the state Attorney General's office do their jobs, and follow the leads of Munnell and others they've been gabbing with, then Sheriff Joe Arpaio may have finally met his Watergate," writes Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times.
Munnell's allegations are just the latest in a long string of controversies for Sheriff Arpaio. This summer, the sheriff became embroiled in a battle of wills with the federal government, after it launched a civil-rights probe into the department to see if it was using racial profiling in its enforcement of immigration laws.
Arpaio refused to hand over documents in the investigation, prompting the federal government to launch a lawsuit against him.
"I find it very unsettling that this office stonewalls all investigations targeting this office, claiming they are political," Munnell wrote in his memorandum. "However, when this office investigates public officials, we have the audacity to publicly criticize their failure to cooperate with our investigators."
DID ARPAIO KNOW?
Arpaio's department responded quickly to Munnell's allegations, handing over the memorandum to Sheriff Paul Babeu of nearby Pinal County. But the Times suggests a political motive behind that move, describing Babeu is an "ally" of Arpaio.
And writing at the Phoenix New Times, Stephen Lemons asserts that it would have been nearly impossible for Arpaio not to know what his number-two man was up to.
"Joe knows everything that goes on," Tom Bearup, Hendershott's predecessor in the sheriff's office, told Lemons. "Because I've been there. And I know that nothing goes on in that office without [Joe's approval]. Every policy he initialed. Anything major that happened, people would go and tell him, because they felt intimidated."
In a profile of Arpaio, the Guardian said the sheriff's prison system is "subject to the most lawsuits and has [one of] the highest prisoner death rates in the US."
Arpaio "does not flinch from putting women prisoners in chain gangs, for example, and humiliates male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underpants under their black-and-white-striped jail garb," the Guardian reported.