The four activists who were arrested at a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday are checking with attorneys to determine whether they can bring legal action against county authorities.
The four may outline their plans as early as today, said Raquel Terán, director of the group Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, a coalition of community-based organizations, labor unions, religious leaders, students and elected officials who are opposed to Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“They were completely political arrests,” Terán said Thursday. The citizens group plans to hold a press conference today in downtown Phoenix.
On Wednesday, sheriff’s deputies and county security officers arrested Monica Sandschafer, Kristy Theilen and Joel Nelson, who are members of Acorn — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. They also arrested Jason Odhner, a member of MCSA.
MCSA and Acorn have worked closely during the past several months in their anti-Arpaio campaign.
'just responding to violations’
Arpaio, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, said deputies merely reacted to the situation as it developed in the county auditorium.
“They’re just responding to violations of the law, which is disorderly conduct and trespassing, as evidenced by the chairman of the Board of Supervisors … warning them several times and finally hitting his gavel. That means you stop. If you don’t stop, you’re removed and you’re arrested,” Arpaio said.
A brief fracas developed about mid-way through the meeting during the public comment portion, in which members of the public are allowed two minutes each to address the supervisors on any topic of their choosing.
Newly nationalized U.S. citizen Guillermina De Pichardo, who was one of four women arrested two days earlier for a sit-down protest in the lobby of the supervisors’ 10-floor office building, had just spoken to the board in Spanish detailing her outrage about her arrest Monday.
Terán stood next to her to serve as her translator. As they returned to their seats, about 15 people stood and clapped for 20 seconds.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Andy Kunasek, R-District 3, tried to call the next speaker, then banged his gavel. As the spectators returned to their seats, he said, “I ask that you restrain yourselves and conduct yourselves in a manner appropriate for a public meeting.”
At the same time, deputies and security personnel who had been positioned along the edges of the auditorium moved in, pointed to those who had been standing and ordered them to leave the building.
Some of those who were ordered to leave found their access to the aisles and doors blocked by the very deputies who ordering them to leave. “I’m trying to leave,” one person said loudly. “Please stop this.”
As the deputies grabbed the four and escorted them out of the auditorium, Kunasek tried to resume the meeting. He called for another speaker, who happened to be Sandschafer. “That’s me, sir,” she said as deputies led her past the dais where the five board members sat and watched.
Later, Terán called the arrests unacceptable.
“It’s like they want to crush our freedom of speech,” she said. “They want to crush our rights to petition our government. They want to crush our rights to come together and organize. They want to intimidate us.”
MCSA members have been petitioning the supervisors for six months to allow them to present their grievances about the sheriff’s office during the formal part of supervisors meeting. The supervisors have denied their requests, relegating the activists to speak in two-minute bursts during public-comment sessions of their meetings.
Animal-adoption activists who present a “pet of the month” during the meetings get better treatment, Terán said.
The anti-Arpaio activists repeatedly have said they’re concerned about a variety of issues surrounding the sheriff’s office.
Among their concerns are alleged civil rights violations, uninvestigated sex crimes, increasing times for emergency response calls and multimillion-dollar lawsuits associated with the treatment of people in county jails.
The activists largely have adopted the findings outlined in investigative reports published by the East Valley Tribune, The Arizona Republic and the Goldwater Institute, among other sources.
Arpaio has dismissed the findings in general, but neither he nor any other sheriff’s officials have disputed a single specific finding in the Tribune five-day investigative series “Reasonable Doubt,” which was published in July.
online petition launched
In a related matter, the national immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice launched an online petition to the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the sheriff’s office. The petition is at http://americasvoiceonline.org/page/content/sheriff.
The effort is in response to the Fox network’s planned launch of a reality program featuring Arpaio later this month, according to America’s Voice Web site.
The FBI already is investigating the sheriff’s office. Arpaio declined comment about the investigation Wednesday, but strongly urged anyone with complaints about him or his agency to contact the FBI.