'Toughest Sheriff' ready for violators

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – If it comes to it, the oft-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" says he has a pair of pink underwear, a bologna sandwich and a spot in a dirty old prison tent for Tom Brady, Eli Manning or, most certainly, Paris Hilton.

Maricopa County – which includes much of metropolitan Phoenix – is host to the Super Bowl, one of the nation's most decadent party weekends where, sometimes, celebrities and even athletes find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Around here the law means Joe Arpaio, the tough talking, tougher-ruling sheriff who would like nothing better than to make an example out of a high-profile criminal and give them the kind of treatment you might expect in what used to be the wild, wild West.

So for the football player who might get into a bar fight or the starlet who might drive drunk, consider yourself warned.

"(They'll) be treated the same as anyone," Arpaio said Wednesday. "Let the players know that. And Paris better take a limousine. Somebody better tell her that she is in Maricopa County, not Los Angeles County.

"It's a tough county to be in if you do something wrong. Especially the way I run the law enforcement."

Arpaio has been sheriff here since 1992 and runs his jail like no one else, his most famous policies generating worldwide attention. They include:

  • Pink underwear: When he noticed that inmates kept stealing jail-issued underwear, he dyed them all pink in an effort to humiliate male prisoners and cut down on thefts. It worked and he even sells a line of pink underwear to raise money for the sheriff's office.

  • Bologna sandwich: Rather than serve inmates three square meals a day, Arpaio decided to save money and return to the days when the term "prison food" meant something.

"We don't give them breakfast anymore or lunch, we give them brunch," he said. "They get a bologna sandwich."

Inmates have said it is beyond bad. Arpaio noted that no one has starved to death.

  • Tent city: Arpaio often says he wants the most populated jail in America. He came up with a solution to overcrowding when he got a hold of some old military tents and had them erected in the parking lot outside one of the county jails.

Thousands of inmates don't stay in traditional cells. Instead, they sleep on cots under the tents (the complex is surrounded by fences) whether the temperature drops near freezing or, as is often the case in the desert, climbs into triple digits.

"We have almost 2,000 people in hot, Korean War tents."

It's enough to make a felon dream of the hole, even before Arpaio pipes in classical or patriotic music. He even put up a giant pink "Vacancy" sign outside Tent City, which now gives tours to curiosity seekers from around the globe.

"I've got room," he noted of the players and party goers. "I'll put them in my celebrity tent."

How is that not a reality show?

  • Chain gang: In 1995, Arpaio brought back the male chain gang for prisoners and a year later created what he calls, "the only female chain gang in the history of the United States, if not the world."

Wednesday morning, both "Sheriff's DUI Chain Gangs" were picking road side garbage along Glendale Ave. in the shadow of University of Phoenix Stadium, which will host Super Bowl XLII. They were wearing old school black and white striped prison garb and, presumably, pink underwear.

Beside the men's chain gang was a sign reading: "Bowl Fans: Drive and Drink and You'll wear Pink." By the women's gang: "Ladies: Horizontal stripes will make you look fat! So do not drink and drive."

"We want to make the influx of people know that if you come into this county and get arrested and convicted of driving under the influence you are going to the tents and out on the chain gang."

Paris picking trash? Tom eating a bologna brunch?

"We're ready for them," he promised.

Arpaio is 73, a former DEA agent and someone who's dealt with plenty of criticism and even a recall effort for his treatment of inmates and, especially, illegal immigrants. He's controversial, but also popular, elected five times.

"I guess they like their sheriff," he said.

If nothing else, the man is colorful, which makes him perfect to try to contain the sprawling excess of a Super Bowl which features 'round the clock partying, an influx of prostitutes and huge crowds ranging from blue-collar football fans to Hollywood glitz.

While it seems unlikely Brady or Manning will suddenly step out of line, the history of football players breaking the law is fairly lengthy. If during Super Bowl week they tend to head out on the town for some fun and if they get busted this time, there'll be no quick bail or leniency.

What passes for "celebrity justice" here was when Arpaio didn't put a locked up Mike Tyson in the tents last month due to safety concerns. Not Tyson's safety, mind you, the other guys'.

"He has two dangerous weapons: his fists. And also his teeth because he did chew somebody's ear off when boxing a couple of years ago."

As for Hilton, who is in town to host and attend a number of big parties, you get a sense Arpaio wouldn't mind having her slip up.

Last year when overcrowding forced her early release from a Los Angeles County jail on a DUI conviction, he generated headlines by asking she get sent to Tent City.

"They put her on home arrest," he growled. "That would never happen with me. She'll serve every minute. She's in town and if she gets arrested in this county, she'll go to the hot tents if convicted."

She'd probably be fine with the pink underwear, though.

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