By Prison Legal News
Paul Bebeu, Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona and a former police officer, was a rising Republican star within the state in 2012 – crusading in support of the anti-immigrant legislation SB1070, co-chairing Arizona’s campaign for Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and espousing the so-called family values that appealed to his conservative base.
However, his status as a contender for a seat in Congress came to a screeching halt in February 2012, shortly after the Phoenix New Times published an exposé that alleged Babeu had threatened his Mexican ex-boyfriend with deportation for releasing details about their relationship – as well as photos of Babeu that were originally posted on a gay “hookup” website.
“I have decided to end our congressional campaign and seek re-election as Pinal County sheriff,” Babeu said in a personal message to his friends and supporters on May 11, 2012. He postured that in Washington, D.C. he would be “just one of 435 voices” in the House of Representatives, while as sheriff of Pinal County – a mostly rural area about an hour southeast of Phoenix – he could have a greater impact.
Babeu made no mention of the news reports about his alleged threat to deport his former lover, Jose Orozco, which had made it nearly impossible for him to raise money to run for a seat representing Arizona’s unshakably conservative 4th District, or to make public appearances without facing questions about his sexuality or the ongoing investigation into his ex-boyfriend’s allegations.
“To use a position of authority … and make legal threats opens a Pandora’s box of ethics issues for any law enforcement person or any elected person. In this case, he’s both,” noted criminal defense attorney Antonio Bustamante.
Three months prior to bowing out of the congressional race, Babeu held a press conference outside the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, where he was surrounded by deputies, employees and campaign supporters. He spent most of the hour-long press conference denying that he threatened his Mexican-national ex-boyfriend, though he acknowledged he was gay.
He then complained that the media – specifically the Phoenix New Times, which has long been opposed to anti-immigration rhetoric from the likes of Babeu, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and ousted former state Senator Russell Pearce (the sponsor of SB1070) – had used “baseless” allegations to opportunistically disclose his sexual orientation.
“This whole rumor, this whole idea of who I am in my private life has been shopped around,” Babeu told reporters in February 2012, a day after the scandal broke. “This was a way, the hook, of how this could be brought out, and to malign and attack a sheriff who does stand for conservative principles, who does enforce the law.”
The accusations, he added, “are absolutely, completely false – except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that’s the truth, I am gay.”
Jose Orozco, who had worked as a campaign volunteer for the sheriff from 2008 to 2011, managing Babeu’s website and Facebook page, was in possession of several text messages and photos of Babeu wearing only a pair of tight underwear – photos the sheriff had posted on www.adam4adam.com, a gay dating site. His user name was reportedly “studboi1.” When Jose refused to sign a confidentiality agreement saying that he wouldn’t disclose the details of his relationship with Babeu, the sheriff allegedly threatened to have him deported.
“You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process … including yourself and your family,” Babeu wrote in a text message to Jose in late 2011. He also told his ex-lover, “You have crossed the line. Better get an attorney.
You [sic] brother will also be contacted.” Their years-long relationship ended in September 2011 when Orozco thought that Babeu was cheating on him.
“Jose retained our law firm after he was contacted by Sheriff Babeu’s attorney, because he felt intimidated and needed someone to help protect his rights,” Phoenix lawyer Melissa Weiss-Riner said in a statement. Orozco was apparently in the U.S. legally on a visa, though Babeu’s attorney incorrectly claimed the visa had expired.
Babeu gained a measure of national stature four years ago when he campaigned with U.S. Senator John McCain for a fence along Arizona’s southern border to keep out illegal immigrants; he was also a minor figure in Romney’s presidential campaign. But after Jose’s allegations became public, Babeu quickly resigned from his position with the Romney camp.
Arpaio – the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” – was a longtime ally of Babeu, as both men have used the racial politics of the immigration issue, including SB1070, to further their careers and keep their jails filled with Mexican immigrants. But after Babeu was outed, Arpaio distanced himself.
“All I can say is he’s the sheriff of Pinal County, and it’s up to him to face his issues, not me,” Arpaio said, adding that Babeu had been “begging” for an endorsement in the congressional primary for the 4th District before dropping out of the race.
On August 31, 2012, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s office announced that no charges would be filed against Babeu for threatening Orozco, or against Orozco, whom Babeu accused of stealing his online identify and hacking into his websites. Horne had recused himself from the investigation, which was conducted by Solicitor General Dave Cole.
Babeu was re-elected Sheriff of Pinal County on November 6, 2012.
Prison Legal News, represented by the law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, the ACLU of Arizona and Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber, is currently suing Sheriff Babeu and Pinal County for censoring PLN at the county’s jail. A spokesman for the Sheriff’s office claimed that PLN’s publications had been rejected by the jail’s mailroom “in error.” See: Prison Legal News v. Babeu, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:11-cv-01761-GMS [PLN, Oct. 2011, p.36].
(First published in Prison Legal News and used here by permission)