azrepublic reports: To most of us, it was just another idiotic joke . . . at our expense. A recent supermarket tabloid featured a cover photograph of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with a big, gaudy headline reading: "Cops probe Obama." The story, which is true, said that Arpaio is allowing his volunteer Cold Case Posse to investigate claims brought to him by the Surprise "tea party" that President Barack Obama's birth certificate may not be authentic.
To everyone but the most hard-shelled, slightly cracked conspiracy nut - and our beloved sheriff - the "probe" is a ridiculous exercise, a silly one-liner the rest of the country gets to tell. With Arizona as the punch line. But if the joke gets his picture in the supermarket-checkout lane, Arpaio will laugh all the way to the tabloid cover.
"I'm listening to my constituents," the sheriff is quoted as saying. "They asked me to look at it. When I get complaints on anybody, whether politicians or anyone else, I don't throw it in the wastebasket." Really? That isn't what Arlene Banks would say.
Some time back, Arlene was at a meeting of Parents of Murdered Children that I attended. Her 21-year-old daughter, Brittanee Monique Howard, who was eight months pregnant with a baby girl, was shot and killed on May 1, 2008.
Howard was murdered in the residence she was sharing with her boyfriend in Laveen. According to reports, there was an intruder, a struggle over a gun and shots were fired. Brittanee was hit. No one has ever been arrested or charged in the case.
Brittanee's family members say they had to nag the Sheriff's Office for more than a year to get information on how the investigation was going.
"It's been really, really bad," Arlene said.
Brittanee was her only child, a happy, healthy young woman who was working at a credit union when she died.
"The last meeting we had with the Sheriff's Office was last year, when they finally decided to release a copy of the initial report to us," Arlene said. "Before that, they kept telling me that there was no report. There were things that struck us as odd, and to this day, we hardly ever hear anything."
Arlene Banks is not alone.
There are many other mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who have lost someone to a crime that has never been solved.
To victim families, having a sheriff that allows a volunteer Cold Case Posse to stage a silly investigation of the president's birth certificate is no joke.
It's a tragedy.
It doesn't matter that the posse is made up of unpaid volunteers, as the sheriff's public-relations staff is quick to point out. It doesn't matter that no county resources or money are being wasted.
What matters is that the lives of victim families have been turned upside down and they haven't gotten any answers.
They don't want their loved ones to be forgotten.
"It's been awhile since I've been to a meeting of Parents for Murdered Children," Arlene told me. "It is difficult to sit through. Sometimes, you have to have the energy to listen to everyone's story and not leave there feeling so very down. A lot of people are looking for answers."
To victim families, a sheriff who is interested in the needs of his constituents would tell his volunteer posse that its time would be better spent investigating the many unsolved crimes in this county.
The sheriff said of his posse's investigation into Obama's birth certificate: "I'm not going to spend hours and hours looking at volumes of information. Give it to them, they're not being paid, they're doing it for nothing."
Fine. If posse members prefer to search through documents rather than search for felons, the sheriff would do taxpayers a big favor if he asked them to find out what happened to the $99.5 million in restricted jail funds that county officials say he misspent over the past eight years.