Sheriff Arpaio plans to sweep Mesa on Thursday - East Valley Tribune: News

Sheriff Arpaio plans to sweep Mesa on Thursday

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Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 2:10 pm | Updated: 9:32 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Word spread quickly throughout the Valley on Tuesday: Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps are finally coming to Mesa.In a hand-delivered letter to city officials, the Maricopa County sheriff revealed he would bring his long-talked-about immigration sweeps to the city on Thursday.

PDF: Read the letter from the MCSO to the Mesa Police Department

Word spread quickly throughout the Valley on Tuesday: Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps are finally coming to Mesa.In a hand-delivered letter to city officials, the Maricopa County sheriff revealed he would bring his long-talked-about immigration sweeps to the city on Thursday.

PDF: Read the letter from the MCSO to the Mesa Police Department

Judge rejects challenge to Arpaio's mail policy

In doing so, the two-day notice raised the specter of violence and widespread protests that have put the city, its police officers and residents on edge since Arpaio first promised the sweeps in April.

"Lives are in jeopardy," said Sgt. Fabian Cota, head of the city's police union. "The sheriff is creating a dangerous situation when emotions run high."

Similar actions by the sheriff earlier this year in Guadalupe and Phoenix brought throngs of protesters and counterprotesters to locations across the Valley. At several points, those competing groups came close to physical confrontation.

The union's concerns were shared on Tuesday by just about every faction of the community, including city officials, pro-immigrant activists and even supporters of Arpaio.

Rusty Childress, who leads United for a Sovereign America, one of the most vocal groups supporting Arpaio, said it was "unlikely" it would rally in Mesa, given the tension rising over the sweeps.

"I'm sure we'd love to be there to support Sheriff Joe and have our signage," said Childress. "But I think the main concern is public safety."

If the sheriff's office specifically invites the group to rally in Mesa, Childress said, its leaders may change their minds. But, he added, "that call isn't going to come."

'SUPPRESSION SWEEPS'

In past sweeps, Arpaio ordered deputies and volunteer posse members to flood specific - and often heavily Hispanic - areas of the Valley, stopping people for any type of civil or criminal violation they could find, no matter how small.

Once the stop was made, officers then tried to determine the person's immigration or citizenship status.

People suspected of being in the country illegally were arrested, as were others suspected of breaking additional laws.

The sheriff calls the operations "crime suppression sweeps," but critics decry them as racial profiling and have even asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations.

Supporters say the sheriff is taking steps to root out illegal immigrants, which they believe few other agencies are trying to do.

During many of the sweeps, protesters from both sides have shown up in force to voice their opinion.

But the emotions over the issue have grown so strong, some people believed there is a potential for the demonstrations to lose control.

During one protest this past spring in north Phoenix, tensions between the two sides grew so heated, many people believed it could have turned into a riot.

Some protesters brought guns, some got into shouting matches and others made overt threats.

"That was ugly. That was scary," said Dan Peitzmeyer, a Catholic minister who turned out to oppose the operations.

"That was about as close to a riot as I've been in," he said.

Those concerns caused Mesa's police chief, George Gascón, to ask the sheriff for a two-day warning if Arpaio planned to come to the city.

When he first made the request back in April, Gascón said he, too, was afraid of possible civil unrest.

He even organized groups of police officers to be in action at an hour's notice if it happened unexpectedly.

Those officers were ordered to dust off their riot gear and come up with plans to handle emotional and possibly violent protesters.

Gascón also asked the sheriff to allow a Mesa officer to be at ground zero of the operations to help communicate with the city's police force about all the happenings.

On Tuesday, Arpaio complied with at least part of Gascón's request, sending someone from his office to deliver the notice at 10:30 a.m.

However, Arpaio remained mostly silent on his plans even after the letter was delivered.

"We're looking into coming in there," Arpaio told the Tribune at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. "Why don't you talk to the Mesa police?"

But even Gascón was in the dark about details of Arpaio's plan, including such basics as time and location of the sweeps.

"It just basically is addressed to me - that the sheriff is notifying me that his department will be coming in to do crime suppressions in the city of Mesa," Gascón said.

"And that they have done this in the past very successfully," he said.

Gascón said he was trying to get more details throughout the day.

Numerous activists called him after word of the sweeps began to spread, telling him they planned to protest but were afraid for their safety, the chief said.

"If the demonstrators come - and I believe they will, based off the phone calls I got this morning - we want to make sure they can express their views ... be safe and not interfere with the sheriff," Gascón said.

Others reacted with a mix of concern and questions to the news of coming sweeps, first reported by the Tribune on its www.evtrib.com Web site.

Mesa District 3 Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said he hopes the sheriff will cooperate with the police department when he arrives.

"I also hope that his activity in the community is done in a constitutional and legal manner," said Kavanaugh, a practicing lawyer.

District 1 Councilman Dave Richins said he appreciated that the city was given notice.

"It's a matter of common courtesy," he said.

Some shops catering to Hispanics feared the sweeps would could hurt business on Thursday and any other day they take place.

'CUSTOMERS TO STAY AWAY'

Melissa Lopez, cashier at DolEx, a money exchange store in west Mesa, was surprised when told about the pending raid.

"We'll stay open, but I expect our customers to stay away," she said.

Normally, between 50 and 60 customers a day bring cash to the store, pay a fee and the money is sent to Mexico or countries in Central or South America.

"A lot of our customers don't have papers," said Lopez. "Our business will suffer."

Numerous day laborers also said they would be on guard and possibly stay home.

"Why doesn't he look for real criminals?" said Marcel, who would give only his first name.

Another laborer, Marco Antonio, said activity in the city may slow down because of the actions.

"It's better to avoid being out on the street," Antonio said. "It's a good thing that he gave notice ... because then you can be on your guard."

Vocal immigrant activist and radio host Elias Bermudez said he, too, received numerous phone calls on Tuesday morning from people hearing the sweeps were coming. The tension, he said, was palpable.

"He's truly putting the fear of God in our people," Bermudez said. "Now that we know that he's going over there, it's going to be a deserted town on Thursday."

He said he plans to organize many people for anti-sweep protests and may even advocate civil disobedience, including standing in front of patrol cars.

"I think we need to start taking measures into our own hands," Bermudez said.

Phoenix lawyer Antonio Bustamante said, however, that he expects the protests to be more peaceful than that. They will get loud, he said, but through music and sound amplifiers and not with violence or disobedience.

He also said many more people will be monitoring the actions of sheriff's deputies, including following some around with video cameras. Several activist groups have held training sessions to teach people how to monitor the police without breaking the law.

"There'll be more patrols than ever, more citizen patrols. Groups of people have been in training," Bustamante said. "We're more organized than ever."

Tribune reporters Sonu Munshi, Tony Natale, Ryan Gabrielson and Eddi Trevizo contributed to this report.

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