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The jury is still out on whether the self-proclaimed toughest lawman in the country, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is what he claims to be or what his detractors call a bully and a criminal as depicted in the new documentary The Joe Show, by Randy Murray now on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, X-Box, Vudu and Playstation.
While filming the Sheriff, Murray, a liberal, never hid his political views from Arpaio, who gave him full access over a period of eight turbulent years during which the Sheriff’s office became the subject of numerous investigations concerning abuse of power.
“We had, early on, a relationship that was positive,” Murray tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He did know that I was doing a balanced piece that would tell the story, the good the bad and ugly, and he said are you doing a hit piece on me? I said, no, but I think you are.” According to Murray, every claim about the Sheriff’s office in the movie is taken from the media, sources anyone could access, and, “The facts do not bode well for the Sheriff.”
Arpaio was not pleased with the finished film and wasn’t shy about letting Murray know his opinion. “When he saw the film, he was so mad and so angry,” recalls Murray. “He was expecting an honorarium. What he said is, ‘this is a film about my enemies.’ He can’t argue with the facts of the film. We tell all. Showing the deaths and the string of deaths.”
The Joe Show portrays a careerist who endlessly courts the media believing publicity will get him reelected. As Arpaio commits one outrage after another in his quest for greater name recognition, Murray aims to illustrate the mutual dependency between democracy and the media to a point where neither serves the public.
Arpaio has won six straight elections and has risen to become a doyen of the far right and an outspoken opponent of Obama and current immigration policy. According to the movie, in order to thrust himself onto the national stage he made immigration, the enforcement of which is out of his jurisdiction, his top priority starting in 2006. One scene includes a reporter from Maricopa’s East Valley Tribune who notes that response times and arrests dropped precipitously, and 400 cases of sexual abuse went uninvestigated while over $100 million was illegally diverted to immigration enforcement.
In a 2013 ruling by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow Arpaio’s office was found guilty of racial profiling. Last October he was ordered to institute far-reaching safeguards against future profiling and was required to undergo racial sensitivity training for himself and his deputies. When asked if he thought racial sensitivity training might impact the way he and other police do business, he responded, “It takes a little time to alleviate some of these prejudices. I’m not saying they’re true, but the perception.”
Arpaio is amused at charges of racism, explaining, “My mother and father came from Italy. I worked Turkey to Middle East fighting dope peddlers, lived in France. I love the foreign people, yet they call me a racist.”
While he admits his relationship with the Latino community has worsened since he made immigration a priority he claims, “I always had great support from the Hispanics. I don’t know if they really understand me. I’m the first one to say we should get more Hispanic elected officials. That’s what the key is, not what the population is because many of them don’t vote anyway, you know that.”
Things haven’t changed much for police in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, except for the fact that they’ve come under greater scrutiny. “I came up in a different time,” observes Arpaio about his early days walking a beat in D.C. “Things have changed, video, you can’t do nothing, you’re filmed by everybody. You can’t say nothing anymore. I’m not a guy with all the degrees so I understand how the cops feel.”
When Murray began the film he thought it would be a light profile of a controversial figure who bordered on buffoonery. “The further I went into discovering the evils that are coming out of that office, and were happening as a result of the actions of that office, if became more of a conflict for me,” says the filmmaker. “Toward the end of the election I asked him, Sheriff, people have lost their families, people have lost their freedoms and people have lost their lives, what would you do differently now that you know?” recalls Murray. “All he could talk about was running for president,” although Arpaio maintains he would run for governor first, then the White House.
Either way, Murray seems pretty certain Arpaio won’t run for either. “Since the (2012) election he’s already up to about four million by talking about running for sheriff again, which he’s not going to do,” says the filmmaker. “His power is not from his office, it’s that he can manipulate people from governors to congressman to senators to presidents. He uses his power of media to mobilize a very large army of people who are not completely aware of the facts. People are voting against their own principles and he’s riding that wave and taking advantage of them.”
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