This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published January 14, 2011 on The Washington Times website.
A lot of people are wondering what to do about Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Ariz. He’s the left-wing lawman who shot off his mouth and blamed everyone to the right of President Obama for the Jan. 8 massacre in Tucson. Last April, he boasted that he would not enforce S.B. 1070, the state’s immigration enforcement law, which he called “racist,” “stupid” and “disgusting.” In September, he accused Tea Party members of being bigots.
Name-calling is one thing. More seriously, Sheriff Dupnik’s rants may have compromised the future prosecution of suspect Jared Lee Loughner, 22, in the shootings that left federal Judge John Roll, a 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and four others dead, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition and 11 others wounded.
Furthermore, Sheriff Dupnik’s office should have been aware of Mr. Loughner’s bizarre behavior, with multiple campus police reports and a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Mr. Loughner had been obsessed with Mrs. Giffords since 2007 and had been suspended and barred from a community college campus where a classmate predicted he would someday shoot up a classroom. On Sept. 30, Sheriff Dupnik’s name was on a subpoena to Google/YouTube for information regarding a bizarre video that Mr. Loughner had posted.
Sheriff Dupnik may have had enough evidence to take Mr. Loughner into custody for a psychiatric examination before Saturday’s massacre. Perhaps this is why Sheriff Dupnik preferred to talk instead about the culpability of talk-show hosts and conservative political figures.
And as Liberty University communications professor Stuart Schwartz points out on the American Thinker blog, Sheriff Dupnik’s bailiwick could stand for some better law enforcement:
The citizens of Pima County are up to their necks in crime, especially when compared to neighboring Maricopa County. Thirty years of hyperpartisan Democrat-led law enforcement have resulted in the highest crime rates in Arizona. The citizen who lives in Pima County, compared to media-reviled Joe Arpaio’s territory just next door, will have almost three times the chance of being murdered; is more than seven times as likely to be raped; is more than six times as likely to be assaulted; and more than seven times as likely to have experienced a property crime such as burglary, arson or car theft.”
Sheriff Dupnik, who has occupied his post since 1980, won re-election most recently in 2008 with just under 65 percent of the vote. He won’t face voters again until 2012. Perhaps.
Fed-up constituents may not have to wait. Arizona is one of 18 states with a broadly worded recall law for public officials. Here’s the key provision in the Arizona Constitution, Article VIII, Part 1:
Every public officer in the state of Arizona, holding an elective office, either by election or appointment, is subject to recall from such office by the qualified electors of the electoral district from which candidates are elected to such office.
If petitioners in Pima County collect 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the last election (about 90,000 would be needed) they can put Sheriff Dupnik on the ballot in a special recall election. In October 2003, California’s voters ousted Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election – a far tougher task.
At a press conference on the day of the Tucson shootings, Sheriff Dupnik said, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government – the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
On Fox News, when asked what may have prompted the killer’s actions, Sheriff Dupnik opined, “There was a lot of vitriolic statements made on radio and TV … and some of the vitriol got a lot of people agitated.”
When pressed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly for evidence linking the suspect’s mental state to TV or radio commentaries, Sheriff Dupnik came up empty and repeated the charge. Later, he acknowledged, “I don’t have that information yet.”
When Ms. Kelly asked Sheriff Dupnik whether it was proper for him, a Democrat, to castigate political opponents instead of concentrating on the facts of the case, he said, “I’m not sure it has anything to do with politics” before decrying criticism of the Democrats’ health care takeover. Moments later, he said, “We have one political party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country.”
In September, at an immigration forum, Sheriff Dupnik accused Tea Party members of racism, saying, “We didn’t have a Tea Party until we had a black president.” When asked how this came up in the discussion, the Arizona Daily Star reports that “he said, ‘I brought it up. I think I was talking about how bigotry is alive and well in America.’ “
The sheriff’s handling of the case itself may soon come under more scrutiny. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department first declined a request by the Arizona Republic to release any police reports about Mr. Loughner that were made in the months preceding the shooting, but the office reportedly relented and released some on Wednesday.
As the key law enforcement officer, Sheriff Dupnik may have compromised the prosecution. His statements have been “intemperate and really not within the realm of criminal justice or in the scope of his duty as sheriff and may be contributing to the insanity defense of the defendant, Mr. Loughner,” Fox News contributing legal analyst Peter J. Johnson Jr. said Wednesday.
He noted that Sheriff Dupnik called Mr. Loughner “irrational” and “unstable” and said that Sheriff Dupnik indicated that the shootings had been “provoked or precipitated or assisted by the political climate in the United States and the statements of some officials in the Republican Party and in the media.”
Ah, yes. The usual suspects: Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. And don’t forget those millions of Tea Party members.
Recall Sheriff Dupnik.