Sheriff Joe's Enabler

Meet Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas—overtly political prosecutor, abuser of power, sworn enemy of libertarianism

By now, most of America knows the name of Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The publicity-loving self-proclaimed "Toughest Sheriff in America" made himself famous with his desert tent prisons, chain gangs, reality TV show, and, most recently, with his almost certainly illegal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Arpaio is now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation.

Less known, at least outside of Arizona, is Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Peyton Thomas. But prosecutor Thomas has emerged as one of Arpaio's most reliable enablers.

For all Arpaio's tough-on-crime preening, Thomas may actually be more dangerous. Before running for public office, Thomas had already written two books and made a name for himself as a pundit, penning essays and op-eds for a variety of conservative outlets, including National Review, the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and the American Enterprise Institute. He has also surrounded himself with subordinates savvy in new media. Those who know him say that unlike Arpaio, Thomas can be personable, even charming. In short, he brings all of Arpaio's nuttery, with none of Arpaio's scowl. He also brings some intellectual heft to Arpaio's unique approach to policing, or at least the appearance of it. The scary part? Political insiders in Arizona say Thomas could well become the state's next attorney general.

The most recent mess in Maricopa pits Thomas and Apraio against...well, just about everyone else. The two have been squabbling with members of the county board of supervisors for years over the construction of a $341 million county courthouse tower, which both feel is a waste of money. They might have a point. But Arpaio and Thomas are using criminal law as a cudgel in the dispute. 

Last month, Thomas indicted two county supervisors on some petty financial disclosure violations. When Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe issued a ruling pertaining to the court tower investigation that Arpaio and Thomas didn't like, Thomas then indicted Donahoe for bribery, on the absurd premise that as a judge who works in the courthouse, Donahoe (who is retiring soon) would have benefited from the new tower. That indictment came shortly after Donahoe held one of Arpaio's deputies in contempt after a highly-publicized incident in which the deputy was caught on video stealing documents from the file of a defense attorney in open court.

Using criminal charges—or the threat of them—to silence political opponents has become something of a habit for Thomas. He has indicted more than a dozen public officials who have criticized him or Arpaio. He has launched or threatened criminal investigations into dozens of others, including politicians, columnists, and other media figures who have dared to criticize him or the sheriff. When Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics, Arpaio and Thomas investigated him too, attempting to snoop on Gordon's email, appointment book, and phone records. Thomas even recently threatened to criminally investigate a defense attorney for issuing public statements in support of his client.

Afer a failed run for state attorney general in 2002, Thomas was elected Maricopa County attorney in 2004, despite having never tried a felony case. As a pundit and book author, he had advocated a number of bizarre crime-fighting strategies, including instituting a law enforcement "draft," whereby all young men not already in the military would be armed with walkie-talkies and conscripted to patrol neighborhoods. In a 1997 piece for The Weekly Standard, Thomas located the "root of our crime problem" on "rights-happy radical individualism," and blamed everything from rudeness to gang activity on "the moral laissez-faire disorder of libertarianism."

Once in office, Thomas pushed for immigration enforcement (including charging immigrants for "smuggling" themselves into the country), victims' rights, and longer prison sentences. But his office made national headlines in 2005 with its child pornography prosecution of 16-year-old Matthew Bandy.

After a nighttime raid on Bandy’s home, police found nine explicit photos of underage children on the teenager’s computer, then charged him with enough crimes to put him behind bars for 90 years. Thomas's office refused for months to turn Bandy's computer over for an independent forensic analysis. When a court finally ordered him to do so, a defense computer analyst found the computer had been infested with malicious Trojan software capable of downloading the images without Bandy's knowledge (not an uncommon problem). As the child porn case fell apart, Thomas's office refused to let go, eventually getting Bandy to plea to a felony for showing a Playboy magazine to some of his classmates. A judge later dismissed Thomas's insistence that the plea require Bandy to register as a sex offender.

Thomas also came under fire for spending some $2.5 million in public funds on various ads, pamphlets, billboards, and other promotional campaigns allegedly aimed at crime-fighting, all of which also happened to prominently feature his name and photograph.

Nationally, Thomas and Arpaio are still right-wing darlings, winning praise and defenses from conservative outlets such as Fox News, National Review Online, the Washington Times, and Newsbusters. But locally, fellow Republicans and conservatives are raising concerns. Last month, Sheila Polk, the lead prosecutor in a county adjacent to Maricopa, wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic sharply critical of Thomas. Polk, a Republican, wrote, "I am conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes." James Walsh, prosecutor in another adjacent county, wrote a letter to the editor supporting Polk. Thomas' response? He called for a criminal investigation of Polk and Walsh, too, describing their letters as "an orchestrated campaign to pressure law enforcement in Maricopa County to drop charges against influential criminal defendants and suspects."

"Andy Thomas has a reckless streak to him," says Clint Bolick, director of constitutional studies for the Goldwater Institute, Arizona's largest right-leaning think tank. Bolick, a former official in the Reagan Justice Department, was co-founder of the libertarian public interest law firm the Institute for Justice. "He's willing to use law enforcement tools in ways that are pretty blatant abuses of power."

Among the more egregious examples were Thomas' charges against the Phoenix New Times, the city's long-standing alternative weekly. In 2007, the New Times ran a series of articles on some questionable real estate deals involving Arpaio, and as part of the series published the location of tracts of land Arpaio owns, including his home address. Thomas argued that the articles violated a state law prohibiting the publication of the address of a law enforcement officer. Thomas then did something remarkable: His office issued a subpoena demanding the IP address and any indentifying information of anyone who had ever visited the New Times website. Better yet, the subpoena required the publication to turn over any information related to cookies that would reveal what other websites New Times readers were visiting.

"That may have been the broadest subpoena ever issued in the history of the United States," Bolick says. "It literally violated the rights of tens of thousands of people. Including me, I should add. I read the New Times online."

The New Times, in a conscious contravention of grand jury secrecy rules, posted the subpoena on its website, concluding that such a blatant and sweeping violation of the Constitution demanded exposure. In response, Thomas and Arpaio had the paper's owners arrested. After public outcry and criticism from First Amendment proponents across the country, Thomas was forced to drop the charges and withdraw the subpoena just one day later.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Only the most corrupt and disgusting prosecutors make it to state AG. State AG is like a lifetime achievement award for dirty prosecutors.

  • ||

    Couldn't agree more John, and given what's going on today, two words lend great support that thesis - Martha Coakley.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall needs to put on a Thomas mustache and appear in public with a prostitute to disgrace him.

  • Rimfax||

    +ininity

    (Fie on the server squirrels that consider HTML infinity, ampersand-"infin"-semicolon, to be non-English text!)

  • Rimfax||

    Goddammit! Why can't I spell "infinity" correctly?!

  • ||

    After the comments on the last post about this douchebag, all I see when I look at his picture is Dave Foley.

  • mr simple||

    Does this mean that there is now a case open against Balko? And all of us who read the article? And I definitely shouldn't suggest they retire or be retired?

  • Steve Verdon||

    I still insist that one day we'll hear about Thomas being found in a motel room with a male prostitute and a copy of The Road to Serfdom.

  • OO======D||

    I live for his wet kisses!

  • ||

    MFE

  • the innominate one||

    Careful, Radley. From their point of view, you need to be investigated.

    I was thinking about trying to find a job in AZ, but now I'm thinking not. So much for the more libertarian west.

  • ||

    That is kind of a myth.

  • kinnath||

    When I move to Az in the mid-80s from the gentle midwest, I was shocked that you could go the local supermarket and buy guns, ammunition, tobacco, and booze with your groceries, but skin magazines were strictly verbotten.

  • ||

    Ya, but you can buy porn at any 24 hour convenience store. My favorite part of AZ is drive through liquor stores. And it does make me smile to see newly posted signs on bars and restaurants telling patrons that fire arms are prohibited. (By that I mean it makes me smile to know that it is now legal to carry guns into bars and restaurants and owners get to decide if they want to prohibit them.)

  • kinnath||

    In 1985 it was hit or miss whether or not a given convenience store chain would carry even Playboy.

    If I recall, Circle-K was owned/run by a hardcore conservative who would not stock skin magazines of any kind.

  • ||

    I was 3 years old at the time, and I very clearly remember my dad handing me cash and telling me to get him a pack of Marlboros and the newest Hustler.

  • ||

    I have a son?

    "Daddy no want me! I'm gonna take a bus to Reno!"

  • ||

    I hold Republicans responsible for this asshole. For God's sake police your own.

  • ||

    Political parties are only good at policing the other party's back yard.

  • ||

    Which is no small reason why we are screwed.

  • ||

    It's not the biggest reason either. The citizenry is the final check on government.

    Many of us are only good at policing their neighbor's back yard too. Name calling and partisan politics is more popular than keeping a clean yard.

  • Death Panelist||

    The WNYX news director looked better before the mustache.

  • ||

    I thought I heard something on the radio about an election in Massachusetts today. You guys going to post on it?

  • Old Mexican||

    But the fact that he [Arpaio] could win is unsettling. The continuing popularity of Maricopa's bumbling would-be tyrants among both national conservatives and Arizona's rank and file voters is probably in part testament to the continuing popularity of the (mistaken) notions that crime is out of control[...]

    . . . and that without government, we would have roaming bands of armed thugs pillaging and raping. You know, we would have vikings and long ships, again.

  • Rimfax||

    I, for one, welcome our new horn-helmetted....oh, nevermind.

  • ||

    They just kicked some serious cowboy ass and now they are going after a bunch of saints

  • Some Guy||

    . . . and that without government, we would have roaming bands of armed thugs pillaging and raping. You know, we would have vikings and long ships, again.

    So it would be kind of like now, except Joe would have a cooler hat?

  • ||

    Mmmm.....sexy Viking government FTW.

  • ||

    Better watch out, Radley. Once Thomas comes across this article you're probably going to be indicted as part of that mass conspiracy against the Sheriff.

  • ||

    the very real possibility that he could become Arizona's next attorney general.

    FUCK YOU, ARIZONA!

  • kinnath||

    Let us not forget this is the state that elected a sleazely used-car dealer (Evan Meccham) as govenor.

    Arizona was such a cool place to be in the 80's.

  • ||

    It still, works, if you're, white!

  • ||

    Since you remember Mecham's name (more or less), you must also remember that both he and the next Republican governor Fife Symington were bounced out on their asses - with Mecham pulling the trifeca of impeachment, recall and indictment all at the same time. I think Symington was only indicted and impeached (and served time too).

    So, I foster a secret flame deep inside that somehow these Class A Mother Fuckers will get their more than just deserts. I know I vote against them - but the demographics of Maricopa County are strange...

  • Xeones||

    You know, we would have vikings and long ships, again.

    When those longships got to Iceland, they created a nearly-anarchic society that remained stable for almost 300 years, so let's hear it for Vikings.

  • Mad Elf||

    Off topic, but Mel Gibson wants to make a Viking epic with Old Norse dialog like what he did with Apocalypto, but more badass because there will be Vikings.

  • ||

    That sounds way kick ass.

  • Ska||

    That does sound pretty kick ass. Will it show the Vikings slaughtering various Catholic clergymen prior to their (the Vikings) departure for the New World?

    Apocolypto was pretty damn cool.

  • ||

    If it shows Vikings slaughtering clergymen, I hope it also shows the scene from *Njal's Saga* in which one of the first Catholic missionaries lethally whacks a pagan opponent over the head with a cross.

  • zoltan||

    Awesome. He needs to do something set in Rome so I can hear lots of spoken Latin.

  • ||

    Gibson needs to get home improvement guru Mike Holmes to play the lead.

  • Joe M||

    Also, they're going to win the Superbowl.

  • ||

    But they were not Viking Anarchists. They were local lords who were pissed at King Harold of Norway's tax policies. They got pissed off, took their stuff, picked up a few Irish slave girls on the way and moved to Iceland.

  • Fluffy||

    You know, it's too bad Ireland stopped stocking that product.

  • ||

    I wish I could have gotten pissed off after Obama's election and gone off to a nice island with a few Irish slave girls in tow after Obama's election.

  • BakedPenguin||

    From what I hear, Iceland may soon again be an anarchy.

  • ||

    And the Vikings didn't just rape and pillage. They occupied places and set up governments and nations. That is where the Normans came from. They were a group of vikings who took over a piece of France and staid. The Normans also ran Sicily for a very long time and produced medieval Europe's most interesting and best royal Court under Roger.

  • kinnath||

    All of the big cities on the east coast of Ireland were founded by Vikings.

  • Old Mexican||

    They occupied places and set up governments and nations [...]

    Well, that's because they found that the ocassional pillaging wasn't enough, so they institutionalized it.

  • ||

    +1 and then some.

  • ||

    he looks like Lt. Dangle

  • ||

    He is Lt. Dangle. He just doesn't want to admit it yet.

    The reason he acts the way he does it to keep people's minds away from the closet door.

  • Xeones||

    Mad Elf, Viking epics are NEVER off topic.

  • Happy Time Flavors||

    and the district attorney in Medium is so awesome...

  • ||

    "Bloody vikings!"

  • BakedPenguin||

    For those of you getting Thomas confused with Dave Foley, this should show you that they have very different ideas about jurisprudence.

  • ||

    What's the NYCPD in the drugfree.org ad?

  • In Time Of War||

    Eh, you don't like me, you don't like my money. If I ever have to drive through there, I'll make sure to gas up before the county line, and we'll be stopping to eat in, oh, New Mexico or Texas.

  • DJF||

    “”””with his almost certainly illegal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants”””

    So when did breaking immigration laws become just being undocumented immigrants? Is breaking into other people’s homes just undocumented renting?

  • Nick||

    I have no familiarity with how how those two are doing things, but I think it may be how they are doing and not that they are doing it at all.

  • ||

    Yep, that sentence gave me whiplash too -- illegal to go after law breakers??? 'Undocumented' sounds like you forgot your wallet on the nightstand.

    That said, the DA definitely sounds like a thug.

  • RULEOFWOLVES||

    Well, being in the U.S. without legal authorization is a civil offense while burglary is an offense enforced under the criminal laws.

  • ||

    Confused? Man, that is Dave Foley. It's performance art.

  • ||

    No, it's Kevin MacDonald. That's performance art.

  • ||

    Dave is much funnier.

  • Harold Head||

    But Kevin is much busier.

  • Smeghead||

    Ah Vikings. Nothing says obey me like a head on a stick.

  • ||

    But they're doing it for the children...

    I'm not sure what's scarier - the Nazi sheriff and prosecutor, or the public that actually wants them in office. I think the latter...

  • ||

    At least the dingleberry Michigan politicos are mostly comical, as opposed to downright dangerous...one counts small blessings when one lives in the Haiti of the US.

  • ||

    What ever happened to that deputy? Did he ever report to jail or apologize?

  • dennis||

    Wouldn't it be awesome if Andy and Sheriff Joe were found together, both in leather gear, in a hotel room, their innards devoured by the gerbils they were stuffing up each others' asses?

  • LibertyBill||

    One thing is for sure, we know who Underzog and Lone Wacko will be campaigning for.

  • politically incorrect||

    gaywads, name callers, and moronic hyper-liberals must read this rag, or lawbreakers and wannabees. what idiot wants criminals treated like pampered pets? go get yourself mugged and the crap beat out of you just because some mutant wants a little excitement....then make a post about the law and who keeps these freaks off the street.

  • JLap||

    ... and then the mugger turns out to be Sherriff Joe Arpaio.

    when idiots try to be edgy, they call themselves "politically incorrect"

  • Mikey||

    Haha, gaywads! Haven't heard that shit since the fifth grade.

  • ComradeZero||

    That's beneath even me...

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    Balko is a little bit suspect to me. He seems to stretch some quotes of Thomas as relayed by Olson to fit his view of this guy.

    I dont like Thomas, but Balko, of the "undocumented worker" ilk, seems just a little over the top on this article.

  • Gustavo Arellano||

    That Candy Thomas and Joe Arpayaso remain so popular is due to too many Arizonans despising Mexicans more than fascism. What a swell state!

  • ||

    I think this is true, and I live in Maricopa County. I am also a tall white middle aged guy who used to have a cop mustache so fortunately Andrew can't tell I'm a filthy Libertarian and Joe doesn't think I'm an illegal.

  • Ken Hagler||

    If "good people" tolerate Thomas and Arpaio because they persecute immigrants, than those aren't really good people.

  • Not That David||

    "He has indicted more than a dozen public officials who have criticized him or Arpaio."

    In a just world, this would prove nothing because every public official would criticize him and Arpaio, prefereably more often than they breathe.

  • ||

    Supporting lawbreakers and attacking law enforcement. Just another one of many reasons you libertines will never, and I mean ever, get more than 2% of the vote. If you don't like the law change it, but quit telling people law breaking is OK.

  • ||

    Andy! I was wondering when you'd contribute all you've got to the discussion!

  • ||

    Radley Balko is either an idiot or a Democrat Liberal, Same thing?

  • ||

    It appears Andrew Thomas is not well qualified to serve as a county prosecutor, much less state attorney general. His behavior is not just "reckless", but feckless,
    and selfishlessly petty. And Arpaio's siege of the courts is far beyond respectful bounds. Maricopa County law enforcement is Neocon fascism on the march!

  • Ayn R. Key||

    This is why whenever I refer to "law enforcement" I am not only referring to the police. I specifically include District Attorneys under the label of "law enforcement". Without the DA, the cops are pretty powerless.

    So whenever I criticize law enforcement for being a criminal gang that doesn't protect us, you know I'm also talking about the DA's as the Capos.

  • ||

    Just another "Nifong in Training"!

  • ||

    I am a conservative Republican caught in Mr. Thomas's evil web of corruption. There are those of us who
    know all too well the level of insanity this man has brought to the county. There is no way in hell we would let him do that to the state.

  • RULEOFWOLVES||

    Sadly, the Arizona State Bar will do nothing about these abuses of power having been directly warned to back off by Thomas' anti-immigration allies in the State Legislature who threatened to legislate the Arizona State Bar's authority over disciplinary matters out of existence. Thomas Deputy Chief Enabler, conservative blogger amd self0described "new media activist" Rachel Alexander, has gone so far as to publically threaten to have the Arizona State Bar criminally investigated by Arpaio:
    http://www.enterstageright.com.....azimmi.htm

    Try to get away with that in any other jurisdiction and a lawyer would have their license to practicde law shredded faster than an Arpaio immigration enforcement sweep.

    I was sitting near Alexander this past Friday afternoon in Federal Court in Phoenix listening to the oral argument in the Goldwater Institute's "Clean Elections" matching-funds lawsuit (they were successfull in their effort to win a summary judgment). Your article must have had an effect on her because she was click-clacking away furiously on her Blackberry (a no-no in Federal Court)while glowering occasionally at Clint Bollick. She reacted with hostility totally out of proportion to the request when a fellow spectator asked her politely to stop texting in court.

    I've been a member of the Libertarian Party for the past thirty five years and after living in Maricopa County it has never been easier to support limited government.

  • RULEOFWOLVES||

    For some reason I thought the article came out on Friday so RA must have been upset about something else. Probably, the likelihood of having to testify before the Federal grand jury being convened in Phoenix yp investigate Thomas and Arpaio.

  • Alice Lillie||

    Maricopa County Attorney Thomas reminds me of the mercantilist British rulers in the 1600's and 1700's before the American Revolution. They would arrest and prosecute any officials such as judges and lawmakers who opposed them. That is what Thomas is doing now.

    Very much like the Soviet Union.

    While I, too, am very concerned about illegal aliens, what needs to be done is better border patrol. Arpaio and Thomas have no Constitutional authority to conduct sweeps.

    What we need today are:

    1. better education of the people in AZ who need to understand that this is a country of laws, we have a Constitution, and people in power do not own the country and cannot do as they please. Thomas and Arpaio are going against the Constitution and do need to be prosecuted at the federal level.

    2. A latter-day Sons and Daughters of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty if you recall were the instigators of the American Revolution, and antics on the part of the British that made them realize they had to act were very similiar to the antics of Thomas and Arpaio.

    So, Thomas believes that individualist libertarianism is the enemy? Well, he can include the Founders, and *me!!*

  • ||

    made himself famous with his desert tent prisons, chain gangs, reality TV show, and, most recently, with his almost certainly illegal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants.

    Ya forgot illegal aliens, wetbacks and lesbian governors.

  • ||

    I have read many on these two, and as it turns out like most, that in the end, they get in some scandal, as current witht he fedearl indicment pending with one, but the point is, it's sad that when our representatives go beyound, and abuse power, but as I say, in the end some sacandalous issue arise and "What Have we Got Here" question who will be first??? I put my money on the attorney, following by one length??? it wont be long, you've got my firm stand on this, that's what the horoscope outline for these two are??

  • L||

    God bless Sherriff Joe. Only the brain-damaged, America hating left judge what you do. The rest of us are rooting you on.

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