Here's how publicity hound Joe Arpaio used a TV station to try to destroy rival Dan Saban with a bogus rape claim
By Paul Rubin
Published: January 25, 2007
On the early evening of April 7, 2004, an Apache Junction resident named Ruby Norman shot an e-mail over to Sheriff Joe Arpaio that must have seemed heaven-sent.
"I need to talk to you about a matter that would be of great interest to you," Norman wrote to Arpaio, then starting his campaign for a fourth term as Maricopa County's chief lawman.
"I am the mother of one of your running mates that's not so honorable. I do not want to see him make sheriff for the simple reason of things he has done. Please contact me."
Norman signed off with her name and phone number.
By "one of your running mates," sheriff's officials would learn that Norman was referring to Dan Saban, then a 47-year-old newly retired Mesa police commander who had announced his intention to run against Arpaio in the Republican primary that September.
Norman was Saban's adoptive mother, though the two hadn't spoken in about a quarter-century.
A few weeks after Norman sent her April 7 e-mail, she apparently alleged in a taped phone interview with Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, that Saban had raped her more than 30 years earlier, when he was a teen.
The word "apparently" is necessary because Hendershott would erase the tape, evidence that would have been most instructive in analyzing what happened later.
Norman never had reported the rape to authorities until she spoke to Hendershott.
She claimed to be coming forward to try to patch things up with her two other sons (one adopted and one birth), who had told her they didn't believe her account.
What Chief Hendershott and members of the sheriff's Threat Assessment Squad did after receiving Norman's e-mail is the subject of a fierce lawsuit filed by Dan Saban in Maricopa County Superior Court.
In the notice of claim before the suit's filing, Saban attorney Joel Robbins asked for $1 million -- a relative pittance these days.
In lieu of that, Robbins said his client would accept $50,000 from the defendants, along with Sheriff Arpaio's resignation.
The suit is a nasty one, with lawyers on both sides hurling vicious (and quotable) venom at the other with unusual ferocity.
Among other things, it claims that Arpaio and the other defendants invaded Saban's privacy by leaking details of their brief "investigation" into Ruby Norman's allegations to a Channel 15 television reporter, known as a sycophantic ally of the sheriff's.
That KNXV-TV reporter, Rob Koebel, and his boss, then-news director Bob Sullivan, rushed out a story about the rape allegations that aired as the lead on the evening of April 30, 2004.
The "exclusive" included interviews with the woman and Saban, the latter having been bushwhacked by Koebel at a Phoenix political rally just hours before airtime.
A scintilla of inquiry into Norman's account of the rape and into her checkered past would have revealed that she is a deeply troubled woman with a history of fomenting turmoil among family members.
Such as it was, the criminal case against Saban officially ended six weeks after it started, when the Pima County Sheriff's Office announced it wouldn't be investigating the matter because the statute of limitations for prosecution long had passed.
Pima County had gotten involved at Arpaio's request, after his office soon declared a conflict of interest in investigating political opponent Saban any further. That came after Chief Hendershott and two of his detectives positively assessed Norman's "credibility" as an alleged victim.
But, by then, Arpaio had gotten what he really wanted -- a hot story about a political foe who seemed to be making surprising inroads against the powerful sheriff.
The defendants in Saban's lawsuit originally also included Koebel, who worked at KNXV-TV until July 2004 (two months after his big scoop), when it came to light that he'd donated $100 to Joe Arpaio's campaign, an ethical no-no.
But Saban's attorney agreed last year to drop Koebel and the Scripps Howard Broadcasting Company, which owns Channel 15, from the lawsuit.
Arpaio attorney Dennis Wilenchik calls the lawsuit "a transparently political and egregious abuse of process . . . motivated exclusively by Saban's political ambitions."
That's just what Saban has claimed about the sheriff's office's so-called rape investigation and the feeding of Ruby Norman's unsubstantiated allegations to a favored reporter, Koebel.
Thanks in large part to his close relationship with County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Wilenchik in the last few years has picked up lucrative civil cases defending local officials and their agencies ("Bully Pulpit," June 29, 2006).
In the Saban suit, the blustery barrister also has alleged that opposing counsel Robbins has a vendetta against Arpaio, another supposed motivation for filing the tort.
As evidence, Wilenchik has quoted from a book review submitted by Robbins to Amazon.com about Arpaio's 1996 tome America's Toughest Sheriff: How We Can Win the War Against Crime.
"Joe Arpaio is a blowhard, self-aggrandizing, ignoramus who has cost Maricopa County, Arizona, tons of money pursuing his idiotic vision of 'tough jails' and ham-fisted policing," Robbins wrote. "I am a lawyer who sues Arpaio. I have used this book to cross-examine him at trial and although it was useful for me, it is a self-serving myopic that is pretty dull."
What Robbins' own agitated writings about Arpaio have to do with the merits of Saban's lawsuit is uncertain.
Wilenchik also has claimed that the airing of Ruby Norman's allegations on television helped Saban in terms of financial contributions and political endorsements, perhaps because of the sympathy that the woman's inflammatory (and unsubstantiated) charges produced.
For example, Wilenchik correctly points out that Senator John McCain announced his support of Saban after the exposé (and also after Pima County officials dumped the Norman case).
Because he filed the lawsuit, Saban has had to lay open his own mercurial, often troubled personal life to attack-dog barristers Wilenchik and Scripps Howard attorney David Bodney (an ex-New Times editor).
During that deposition, Saban revealed publicly for the first time that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with his adoptive mother when he was 15 or 16, in the early 1970s.
He said it had happened one time, while Norman's husband (also an adoptive parent) was at work on the graveyard shift at a copper mine up in Superior. Saban described how Norman allegedly had sexually "groomed" him for years before molesting him.
From the Arpaio defense team's point of view, Saban's admission proves somehow that Norman couldn't have been too off-base with her rape story.
"All the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office did," Dennis Wilenchik recently wrote, "was take a complaint generated by [Saban's] adoptive parent, after he publicly ? as part of some bizarre campaign strategy -- accused her of emotionally and physically abusing him as a child."
Wilenchik's "bizarre campaign strategy" comment suggests that Saban actually wanted Ruby Norman to come forward with her allegations. Actually, odds are better that Joe Arpaio would willingly spend a night as a prisoner at Tent City.
Joel Robbins summed up Saban's case by writing that the defendants "cooked up an 'investigation' on an alleged crime (older than the Watergate break-in), with a clear conflict of interest and despite rules prohibiting using public resources for an election campaign, ordered unwilling detectives to do their dirty work, shopped the story to a friendly newsman who had contributed to Arpaio's campaign, undertook an investigation to cover the reporter's tracks and allowed him to publish the report with impunity, refrained from speaking with witnesses identified by Norman as having called her a liar when she told them about these charges, erased potentially exculpatory tapes and lied about all of this in their disclosures and pleadings."
A New Times examination of thousands of pages of court documents (depositions, pleadings, supplemental exhibits) lends credence to much of Robbins' perspective.
Still, Saban's chances against Arpaio in court seem as uncertain as the outcome of his expected 2008 political rerun against the venerable (if not necessarily vulnerable) sheriff. For starters, Saban can't legitimately claim that Norman's allegations cost him the 2004 primary election, which Arpaio won with almost 56 percent of the vote. And despite all the mud flung at Saban during the 2004 campaign (it doesn't get much worse than being publicly accused by adoptive Mama of rape when you're trying to become Sheriff), the City of Buckeye still hired him in early 2005 as its police chief.
That alone will make it hard for Saban to prove he suffered financial damages resulting from the Arpaio camp's machinations, even if the affair has the distinct smell of political opportunism written all over it.
More important to the public than how Dan Saban fares in his litigation is the rare, often chilling look that his lawsuit has given into how far Joe Arpaio and his closest aides will go to stomp those who are seen as potential threats.
In this instance, Ruby Norman's e-mail accusing her adopted son, Saban, of rape presented Arpaio with a deliciously unexpected window of political opportunity.
And Chief Hendershott, the sheriff's loyal right-hand man, went for Dan Saban's jugular, and quickly.
At the start of 2004, Joe Arpaio was ready for what pundits figured would be an easy ride to a fourth term.
The ubiquitous sheriff's popularity ratings weren't as high as they'd been, though a solid majority continued to applaud his over-the-top tough-guy persona.
However, segments of the voting public seemed to be tiring of the relentless self-promotion that has marked the 74-year-old ex-narcotic agent's late-blooming gig as "America's Toughest Sheriff."
Also, some Republicans weren't about to forgive Arpaio for endorsing Democrat Janet Napolitano during her wafer-thin win over the GOP's Matt Salmon in 2002.
Other prospective voters seemed turned off by instances of brutality (by sheriff's personnel) inside Arpaio's sprawling county jail system -- and equally disgusted by the spate of lawsuits, some of them successful to the tune of millions of dollars.
But no one would deny that the sheriff had amassed a skilled team of public-relations mavens that included sworn officers and hired hands with a single-minded mission: keep Arpaio's name forever in the "news" via photo-ops on anything and everything ? ill-treated animals, a retro chain-gang routine or, more recently, utterances about the evils of illegal immigration.
A mostly pliant local media made their jobs undemanding.
Over at the Mesa Police Department, Commander Dan Saban had put in his retirement papers after 27 years in law enforcement.
Though he wasn't a fancy talker, Saban had won the respect of his peers during a career that included a stint as head of Mesa's SWAT team and, later, as chief of the Gang/Intelligence Unit.
He didn't discuss it much, but those close to Saban knew some details of his tumultuous personal life.
Born in Globe, Saban's parents had abandoned him as a 7-year-old, a sad event he admittedly never had gotten over. A Mesa couple named Henry and Ruby Noetzel soon adopted the young boy as their own.
The sanitized version of Saban's story, on his Web site (www.exploresaban.com), is that he graduated from Mesa High School in 1974, then hired on with Maricopa County in 1976 as a 19-year-old corrections officer. Three years after that, he was sworn in as a sheriff's deputy.
The unwritten part of his life résumé is that, before marrying his current wife, Donna, in the early 1990s, the career cop had wed and divorced four women.
Voters traditionally don't appreciate their lawmen and politicians having too much of a history. But Maricopa County has its own special history of multi-marrying sheriffs: Longtime Sheriff Jerry Hill, who served from 1977 to '84, famously was married nine times. That didn't deter voters from electing Hill to two terms. (Hill married a 10th time after leaving office.)
Saban's reputation inside law enforcement as a straightforward, community-minded sort (with a healthy ego of his own) is what propelled him toward a run for sheriff.
But when he announced his intention to run against Arpaio in the 2004 Republican primary, it merited a mere blip in the local media.
No one gave him a chance against the mighty Joe, whose war chest, unrivaled public visibility, and incumbency made him an overwhelming favorite against any challenger.
Saban obviously knew of the skeletons in his closet. But far scarier than his relationship problems with women was the loose cannon that was his adoptive mother, Ruby Norman.
Saban was aware of the havoc she long had caused inside her family. And he also knew that Norman would stop at nothing to get revenge against anyone, including her own children, with whom she had a beef.
A few years earlier, for example, she had claimed to the Arizona Department of Corrections that her birth son, Travis Scott, was smuggling drugs into a state prison, where he is a corrections officer.
Norman did so after Scott won an order of protection against her because of fears he expressed for the safety of his wife and daughters.
Prison officials dismissed her smuggling claim as unfounded.
Norman's other adopted son, John Noetzel, a police officer in Austin, Texas, wrote in a 2004 affidavit, "I consider my mother to be a habitual liar," and claimed she often had physically (not sexually) abused him during his youth.
One of Norman's ex-husbands, Clyde Scott, said in his own affidavit, "Ruby is a chronic liar who created chaos among family members by making false claims and accusations, often about sexually related matters."
But as vengeful and unpredictable as his adoptive mother could be, Saban later testified in his deposition that he hadn't expected anything about what had happened sexually between them so long ago to surface after he announced for sheriff.
After all, he reasoned, Norman had forced him to have sexual intercourse with her when he was just a few years past puberty. He would testify that he long had thought of himself as a victim, certainly not as a perpetrator.
But surface it would, thanks to Ruby Norman, Joe Arpaio's publicity machine and a television station hungry to boost its dismal ratings.
On February 24, 2004, East Valley Tribune reporter Byron Wells sent an e-mail to Dan Saban.
"Has your campaign heard any rumors circulating about Mr. Saban or seen any indications of dirty tricks emerging?" the reporter asked.
Saban soon replied, "No tricks or rumors that we know of. Are you hearing of some?"
Wells soon forwarded to Saban an e-mail he'd recently gotten from Ruby Norman. She'd alleged that the retiring Mesa commander had raped her one night long ago, after she'd taken sleeping pills and was in a drugged state.
She claimed Saban had been 17 at the time, and described herself as "only a few years older than Dan." (Norman is 11 years older than Saban, though the evidence suggests that Saban was 15 or 16, not 17, when their sexual encounter happened.)
"If he is going to run for sheriff, he should be an honest man," Norman wrote to the reporter. "He can start his honesty by telling his brothers the truth. If Dan does not tell his brothers the truth and make things right, I will see to it that his candidacy goes down the drain. I will give this information to people that will use it against him."
Saban soon wrote back to Wells, asking him to call right away, which the reporter did.
Norman testified last July that she'd contacted the Tribune after reading a story about Saban's candidacy, which infuriated her.
She already had laid the groundwork for her public attack that January 27, when she wrote to her son Travis Scott that Saban had 10 days to "make his lies right. Because if he doesn't, I will see to it that he will never make office as Sheriff for Maricopa County. I will go straight to Joe Arpaio with a closet full of skeletons that Dan would not want out . . . I will go to Joe Arpaio and the media . . . It's time for my revenge, and it will be a sweet revenge, to say the least."
Norman would reiterate (in deposition testimony last July and in an e-mail earlier this month to New Times) that she never contacted any media other than the Tribune with her allegations.
She said she definitely never contacted Channel 15 reporter Rob Koebel, but that she'd first heard from him weeks later.
On February 26, Saban got an e-mail from stepbrother Travis Scott, who'd worriedy asked, "Do you want me to send this to the reporter or just keep [quiet]?"
Scott was referring to an e-mail he'd drafted to Bryan Wells about the simmering situation.
Scott wrote that he'd distanced himself from his mother years earlier, and not because of anything Dan Saban had told him.
"I feel that Ruby is a very sick and deranged person who is very much in need of serious psychological therapy," he wrote.
Scott described his relationship with his mother as so broken that he hadn't informed her when his wife died in a car accident.
"I have so much disgust and fear of this woman," he wrote in the unsent e-mail to the reporter.
Saban advised Scott, 18 years his junior, to wait "until the time we will really need it. For now the reporter is not willing to act on the information. If he does in the future, then I'll have him contact you immediately, so be ready for the comment."
Two nights later, on February 28, Phoenix sports mogul Jerry Colangelo hosted a fund raiser for Joe Arpaio. Among those paying $100 into the sheriff's coffers that night was Channel 15 reporter Rob Koebel. Also that night, Dan Saban was guest of honor at a party to celebrate his retirement from the Mesa Police Department. From the podium during the festivities, an old cop pal of Saban's referred to a time years earlier when the two men had shared a home for a while.
Tackily, the friend joked to the audience that Saban once exposed himself to Davis' 6-year-old son, who had been visiting the bachelor pad for the weekend.
Within days after the "roast," Mesa police detectives began an investigation into a possible indecent exposure charge against Saban, their just-retired commander.
Over the next few weeks, the detectives tracked down the alleged victim, now an 18-year-old with no recollection of the incident. They also interviewed Saban, his inappropriate buddy, and others. The friend said he had been making a joke -- admittedly, a bad one -- and that nothing untoward ever had happened.
On March 17, the Mesa department concluded in a 16-page report that "there is insufficient evidence to establish that [the young man] was the victim of an indecent exposure."
The embarrassing incident that happened just as Saban was hitting the campaign trail against Arpaio never reached the media then. Much more potentially explosive was Ruby Norman and what she was going to do now that the Tribune reporter apparently was sitting on her yarn.
On March 5, Saban had published a letter on his Web site that could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike, both against Norman and the sheriff's office. He wrote that he had "received very, very reliable information from inside the Arpaio campaign that they are ramping up to mount a 'smear' campaign against me for issues in my personal life. However, I choose to inform you of these issues myself [before] you hear or read about them in the media."
Somewhat cryptically, Saban said "one of my adopted parents was physically and emotionally abusive to me while I was in their care," and left it at that.
Saban's phrase "from inside the Arpaio campaign" would loom large after he filed his lawsuit in April 2005.
For a long time after that, Saban wouldn't say who had given him that "very, very reliable information." His attorney argued to trial judge Robert Houser that Saban was mindful of employees allegedly targeted for retaliation at the sheriff's office after getting crossways with Arpaio.
But Houser insisted that Saban name names.
When push came to shove last summer, Saban named sheriff's Commander Jim Miller as his source.
In an affidavit signed last May, Miller, who now heads the agency's Internal Affairs unit, admitted that he had told Saban "that I did not agree with some of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's policies, and in general I voiced a negative opinion about the way the Sheriff's Office was then being run."
But Miller said he never had spoken to Saban about anyone "launching a smear campaign against Mr. Saban with regard to anything concerning his personal life."
After hearing that, Saban surprisingly claimed in court pleadings not to recall specifics of his discussions with Miller.
That flip-flop stuck in Judge Houser's craw.
Unless the judge changes his mind, Saban and attorney Robbins will have to pay Arpaio's lawyer, Wilenchik, $28,000 in legal fees, essentially for wasting everyone's time on the source issue.
About half an hour before she e-mailed Joe Arpaio on April 7, Ruby Norman sent Dan Saban an angry message.
"How can you stand up there and be so damn proud and run for sheriff when your [sic] nothing but a damn liar and a rapist?" she wrote in part. "Dan, I have a letter all ready and waiting to send to Joe Arpario [sic]. If you were an honest man, I would support you 100 percent, but until you make your lies right, I will see you go down."
Minutes later, she sent a second e-mail to the Saban camp, threatening to "stop this run for sheriff unless he tells his brothers about a family matter. It will hit the news big-time if he doesn't stand up and be a man and make his lies right."
Norman gave Saban all of 12 minutes to "make his lies right" before e-mailing Arpaio about a sheriff's candidate she wanted to bust.
The missive first reached the computer of Lieutenant Ray Jones, the commander of the Threat Assessment Squad (now called the Selective Enforcement Unit).
Jones testified in deposition last month that he'd reviewed Norman's e-mail on April 8, and thought at first that it was a prank.
Jones said he'd sat on it for about a week before forwarding it to his supervisor, Chief Hendershott.
That the commander would inform Hendershott about such an amorphous tip ("I am the mother of one of your running mates that's not so honorable" is about all Norman had written to Arpaio) speaks to the extent that the sheriff's honchos were involved in his reelection campaign.
Hendershott's place atop the sheriff's pecking order was and is secure: He runs the office's day-to-day operation while Arpaio flits from one photo-op to another.
Certainly, the chief, who serves at Arpaio's pleasure, would demand to know about anything that might affect the sheriff's political future, to which his own is inexorably tied.
Though she'd screamed "rape" to the Tribune, to her son Travis Scott, and to the Saban camp, Ruby Norman had alleged no specific criminal act in her e-mail to Joe Arpaio. But the "tip" apparently was too tantalizing for Dave Hendershott not to check out himself once he got wind of it.
Arpaio attorney Dennis Wilenchik has written that "there is nothing to prove that Saban was even a threat to [Arpaio's] employment let alone a direct obstacle, just because he was running in a primary for the office which Arpaio held."
But on April 15, just as Chief Hendershott was pondering what to do with the tidbit from Ruby Norman, a story in the Arizona Conservative reported that the Republican Party's District 22 in the East Valley had endorsed Saban, not Arpaio.
Clearly, this primary election had the potential at least to be something of a horse race, something Joe Arpaio hadn't had to worry about since first winning office in 1992.
Sometime in early April 2004, Chief Hendershott met for lunch with Channel 15's then-news director, Bob Sullivan.
KNXV was in crisis mode, having finished near or at the bottom of the heap in the previous ratings periods.
As the sweeps period approached, Sullivan asked Hendershott for some scoops, in the same vein as the chief earlier had handed Channel 5 an "exclusive" on an sheriff's office prostitution sting.
Channel 15 had a chip they could play with Hendershott, and his name was Rob Koebel.
Koebel was an unabashed Arpaio groupie, and once had had notions of being a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy himself.
He had worked at Channel 5 before moving over to Channel 15 in early 2003. When he'd applied at 15, Koebel listed Joe Arpaio as a reference. The two were that cozy.
Koebel loved the access he'd won from the sheriff's office after doing a series of especially positive stories on Arpaio when he was at Channel 5.
He also was good friends with sheriff's Sergeant Steve Bailey (though Bailey later would deny that under oath), a supervisor with the then-titled Threat Assessment Squad, which worked directly under Hendershott.
Bob Sullivan called Koebel with super news after the luncheon with Hendershott: The chief wanted Koebel as talent on a series of "exclusive" stories to air during ratings crunch time.
Some of the proposed pieces were sheer inventions, such as a proposed prostitution sting at the Ritz-Carlton (viewers seem to adore yarns about hookers) and other high-dollar hotels. According to Koebel's deposition, no one had filed any complaints with the sheriff's office about uptown prostitutes. Undeterred, Hendershott and Sullivan apparently devised a plan to plant a female deputy as a "prostitute" at the fancy hotels and see what happened, as Channel 15's hidden cameras whirred. (The story never aired.)
The pair also discussed reprising an earlier piece on underage drinking during Arizona Diamondbacks games. But Koebel said later that Hendershott apparently had balked, so to speak, at the baseball story because of "a concern that Jerry Colangelo [might have been] unhappy with that."
The accounts by key players Norman, Koebel, and Hendershott about how Norman's rape allegations got looped into the new "special relationship" between Channel 15 and the sheriff's office differ dramatically.
Koebel testified last November that Norman had been the first to call him about Dan Saban's "problem." He said he got a voice message at work from her on April 25, 2004, while vacationing in Florida.
Importantly, he claimed not to know how Norman had gotten his phone number.
"People knew I've worked with the sheriff's office," Koebel guessed during his deposition. "The assignment desk could have sent that call right into the voice mail."
Koebel said Norman's message hadn't mentioned Dan Saban by name, but claimed that deputies already were investigating a sheriff's candidate on suspicion of rape.
Concurrently, Koebel said he'd started to get an onslaught of phone messages from Arpaio public relations staffers Lisa Allen MacPherson, Paul Chagolla, and Brian Sands directing him to call Chief Hendershott.
Some of the text messages included the numbers "911," as if to signify the gravity of the situation. (In her deposition last month, MacPherson testified, "I do not think I made those calls . . . I don't recall them at all.")
Koebel testified that he didn't return Ruby Norman's message until after he spoke by phone with Hendershott on the evening of April 27. Koebel's wireless-phone records (part of the court record in Saban's civil case) indicate that he and the chief spoke for 17 minutes in that conversation. During their talk, Hendershott played Koebel part of an audiotaped phone interview he said he'd recently done with Norman about the rape allegations.
If the deposition testimony of three sheriff's deputies is accurate, reporter Koebel probably was the first person to hear Hendershott's now-erased tape -- not the detectives who soon would be looking into Norman's claims.
Koebel testified that Hendershott asked him not to tell anyone he'd played the Norman tape for him. The chief also wanted to know if and when Channel 15 would be doing a story on Saban.
Koebel supposedly said that wouldn't be his call, but, for sure, he needed much solid information -- especially a police report ? before moving forward.
In deposition, Koebel said Hendershott had promised him a report would be forthcoming.
Koebel's phone records show he called Ruby Norman immediately after hanging up with the chief.
He said his call to Norman was aimed at finding out "why she hadn't filed a report prior to this. I wanted to get a temperature gauge of what she was like. I wanted to find out the credibility."
In that six-minute conversation, Koebel apparently concluded that Norman was credible enough for him to pursue the story.
He returned to Phoenix two days later, on the late morning of April 29.
Chief Hendershott's account hardly meshes with Koebel's.
Said his attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, "After independently hearing about Mrs. Norman's allegations directly from her, Koebel had other business with the Sheriff and had occasion to speak with Chief Hendershott. During that conversation, which related to a wholly separate matter, Koebel asked Hendershott whether the sheriff's office was investigating anything with regard to Ruby Norman's allegations that Saban had raped her."
With a straight face, Wilenchik also has suggested that Hendershott had played Koebel the tape of his Ruby Norman interview only to confirm that her account was akin to what she'd told the reporter in the alleged voice message.
"Hendershott said that if Koebel wanted any further information, he would have to seek it via a Public Information Request," Wilenchik wrote.
Finally, there's Ruby Norman's account of the goings-on, though, like Koebel's and Hendershott's, it should be read with a warning label about honesty attached.
Norman testified in her deposition that Hendershott called her first, not the other way around.
And as for Rob Koebel's involvement in the story, she said, "I didn't call nobody. Koebel called me and then he asked me if he could talk to me . . . I didn't even know who he was."
Norman explained that she'd long been a loyal watcher of Channel 5, and never watches Channel 15 news. She repeated that in a January 8 e-mail to New Times, responding to a question by writing, "No, I did not call anyone. I wrote to the Tribune because that is the paper [where] I read the article about Dan running for Sheriff . . . I do not know how Mr. Koebel got my phone number and information."
A question arises. If Norman is telling the truth on this point, then did Chief Hendershott feed her phone number to Rob Koebel?
Hendershott and Koebel have denied that.
Things were moving fast by April 28, 2004, the second day of the TV sweeps period.
As Rob Koebel tried to enjoy the final day of his Florida vacation, he got more voice mails and text-pages from the sheriff's office, requesting that he call Chief Hendershott immediately.
Hendershott wasn't sitting still. He spoke to Channel 15 news director Bob Sullivan that day and, according to Koebel's deposition, was pushing hard for the story about the rape allegations.
Hendershott allegedly assured Koebel that sheriff's detectives would be filing a report as soon as they interviewed Ruby Norman. He mentioned them by name -- Sergeant Steve Bailey and Detective Jeff Gentry of the Threat Assessment Squad. The latter (now called the Selective Enforcement Unit) essentially exists to check out supposed threats against Joe Arpaio, not allegations of ancient sex crimes.
Bailey's inclusion in the case cheered Koebel, who knew the sergeant as a friend.
Late that morning, Lieutenant Ray Jones played a portion of the audio recording that Chief Hendershott had made of Ruby Norman for the investigators before returning the cassette tape to the chief. The plan was for Bailey and Gentry to interview Norman at her home in Apache Junction, then return to downtown Phoenix, where a secretary would be waiting to transcribe the interview as Gentry wrote a police report.
In the late afternoon, the officers drove separately to meet with Norman. Sergeant Bailey later was asked in deposition about communications he had with Rob Koebel that day, April 28. "If I remember correctly, he called me," Bailey said, adding that the conversation had occurred after the Ruby Norman interview.
"Do you feel that it was appropriate for you to talk to him about [whether he thought that Norman was credible]?" attorney Joel Robbins asked.
"I would have probably answered someone who asked me if I thought she was credible or not without giving any details of the case," Bailey responded. "[But] I don't ferret out leads for reporters."
Robbins then handed Bailey a copy of Koebel's phone records, showing that the sergeant had spoken to the reporter for 12 minutes shortly before the Norman interview started.
"Would you agree with me that that would be highly improper for an officer to start talking to a reporter before he had ever gone out and interviewed someone?"
"If that occurred, yeah," Bailey replied.
Those phone records also reveal that Bailey and Koebel spoke 37 times by cell phone between April 5 and 30, 2004, for almost three hours total. The sergeant initiated a majority of those calls.
In his deposition, Koebel said he'd been thankful for the chance to ask Bailey about some things nagging at him.
"Some things weren't adding up," Koebel said. "I wanted to know how the [Norman] phone call got to Hendershott, why the tape was there, and I asked Steve bluntly if Hendershott had concocted this."
According to Koebel, Bailey said he didn't know, only that he had been ordered to interview Ruby Norman, and "he wasn't extremely happy about it." Though Bailey later denied it, Koebel said he and the sergeant had discussed the age of the case, and also the glaring conflict of interest in investigating the boss' main political foe for a possible major crime.
Robbins later asked Sergeant Bailey how he'd felt about investigating Arpaio's political opponent.
"It's uncomfortable," Bailey said. "From time to time, you feel uncomfortable about cases you've got to do."
He then added, "I'd feel just as uncomfortable if somebody made that [rape] allegation about you, Mr. Robbins."
The first question asked of Ruby Norman by Detective Gentry during the 93 recorded minutes of their interview refutes the Arpaio legal team's argument that no one at the sheriff's office knew how long ago the rape allegedly had occurred until they'd interviewed Norman. "Okay, Ruby, can you just go back some 30 years now and tell us what it is we're here to hear?" Gentry had asked her.
Norman repeated her story of the alleged rape.
She also noted early in the interview that her sons didn't believe her. Though the detective did collect her sons' names and contact information from Norman and later noted it in his police report, he and Bailey never asked (on tape, at least) why they didn't believe their own mother.
Sergeant Bailey said later he'd considered the Norman interview to be an "initial report," separate from a full-blown investigation.
To Bailey, an initial report is "merely a fact-finding process to determine what's going to happen next . . . If I would have gone out there and thought she was out of her mind, I'm not going to send that to another agency."
But he also testified that "when we left Mrs. Norman's place, it was clear to me at that point we could not investigate this case" because of the conflict of interest.
Bailey said he made his feelings known to his superiors as soon as he and Gentry got back to the sheriff's offices about 7:30 that night.
The sergeant testified that Chief Hendershott, in-house counsel Jack MacIntyre, and Joe Arpaio himself may still have been at the office.
For sure, Bailey said, the sheriff had asked him that night or the next day how it had gone with the Norman interview.
As promised, a secretary stood ready to transcribe the audiotape of the Norman interview.
Though the transcript would reveal Norman to have been memorably inconsistent and provably wrong on key dates and other points, Bailey later said he'd considered her "clear, articulate and credible."
Chief Hendershott's mission on the night of April 28 was to ensure that Rob Koebel would get that police report immediately.
Then, Channel 15 could push ahead with its sweeps "exclusive" about the sheriff's candidate whose adoptive mom was saying he'd raped her.
Rob Koebel had an early flight to catch from Florida to Phoenix on April 29, and tried to get some sleep before a predawn wake-up call.
He later testified that he turned off his cell phone so as not to have to answer the continuing parade of calls from Chief Hendershott and other sheriff's personnel.
Koebel's phone records show he did call Hendershott at 4:33 a.m. -- 1:33 in Phoenix.
Koebel testified that the chief told him the police report would be ready soon after he landed. Koebel just needed someone at Channel 15 to file a public-records request with the sheriff's office, a formality.
Koebel phoned news director Sullivan as soon as he landed, and was told the Saban story was on.
Hendershott soon called again, alerting Koebel that the expected public-records request hadn't come in. Koebel quickly faxed one over from the offices of Channel 15.
The reporter also scheduled an interview late that afternoon with Ruby Norman out in Apache Junction.
Those in the media aware of the sheriff's willy-nilly approach to the Arizona Public Records Law (reporters deemed friendly to Arpaio get their requests filled promptly, while those considered unfriendly don't) will appreciate what happened next.
Within an hour or two after Koebel sent over his request, the sheriff's office informed him that the Howard report was ready for pickup.
Koebel went right downtown with a Channel 15 photographer, and later testified that Lisa Allen MacPherson had ushered him right into Dave Hendershott's office.
Koebel testified that the chief handed him the hot-off-the-presses report, and asked if Channel 15 would be running the story that night. Koebel said he wasn't sure.
By the way, public information officer MacPherson again expressed a profound forgetfulness about this turn of events during her deposition.
"I was really not told very much at all about this," she said. "This whole thing, I was kept in the dark big-time."
"Were you there when Chief Deputy Hendershott met with Rob Koebel to turn over the report?" attorney Joel Robbins asked her.
"No," she said.
Later that afternoon, Koebel and a photographer drove to Apache Junction to interview Ruby Norman. Phone records show that the reporter had been in touch all day (eight calls totaling 40 minutes) with Sergeant Bailey, the Threat Squad supervisor who later in his deposition would try to deny his friendship with Koebel.
Koebel testified that his Norman interview was brief, 20 minutes or so. He explained his interview "technique" in his deposition a few months ago.
"You're going in there to get the basic facts, get the in-depth stuff, and get her credibility on camera -- boom, boom, boom," he said. "You've done your homework before you go in."
"And the homework was done for you by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office?" attorney Robbins asked.
"Wrong," Koebel responded.
Before Koebel went to sleep on the night of April 29, he checked in with Dave Hendershott in a six-minute call.
The next day promised to be a big one.
All Channel 15 needed on April 30 to go ahead with its big "exclusive" was a confrontational interview with target Dan Saban.
Saban unintentionally accommodated the station's needs when he arrived late that afternoon at a scheduled campaign appearance in north Phoenix.
With a cameraman in tow, Rob Koebel pulled off a classic ambush interview, cornering Saban at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge on North 19th Avenue.
The results would make for good television, with a stunned Saban responding to word of his adoptive mother's allegations: "Obviously, you're hitting me with this pretty blind. I need to talk to an attorney before I make a statement. I can tell you unequivocally that, no, I did not rape the woman. Absolutely not."
The response sounded oddly similar to President Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" line.
Looked like a gotcha.
Saban did have the presence of mind to plead with Koebel to contact the candidate's two brothers, who he said could speak to Ruby Norman's historical psychological problems. But Koebel said later he'd had no inclination to do any digging. To him, a he-said, she-said story was just fine, especially when "she" was an adoptive mom and "he" was a candidate to replace Koebel story benefactor Arpaio.
"You can get into a Jerry Springer show with both family members," the reporter later testified, trying to explain why he hadn't bothered to call Norman's other two sons.
"What I do is go directly to the sources . . . I don't need to get into the family."
Back at Channel 15, Koebel and news director Sullivan wrote the "exclusive" for the 10 p.m. news.
The visuals would be simple, but effective: Ruby Norman speaking in silhouette alleging rape, Dan Saban at the FOP Lodge, at first schmoozing with supporters and then getting nailed à la Mike Wallace (sans facts or the 60 Minutes newsman's panache).
And, finally, a long, "legitimizing" shot of the sheriff's wham-bam police report spread out on a table.
At 10 p.m., a Channel 15 news reader intoned, "We begin with an exclusive story. Startling new developments about one of the candidates for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."
A second reader continued, "Dan Saban, running as a Republican, is being investigated for a rape that allegedly happened years ago. The alleged victim?"
"The mother who adopted him."
Rob Koebel did a live stand-up, noting knowingly that what Ruby Norman had told him was "exactly" what she'd told sheriff's detectives in a report "obtained by ABC-15 News."
At the conclusion of the story, Koebel informed viewers that "because of the obvious conflict of interest," Sheriff Joe Arpaio was going to ship the case to Pima County for further investigation.
Before the newscast ended at 10:30, Koebel was on the phone with Sergeant Bailey. He also spoke with Chief Hendershott.
Joe Arpaio had gotten what he'd wanted -- a giant splash of a story about his only real competition for sheriff.
In early May, according to Koebel, Hendershott tipped off Channel 15 to another exclusive, the arrest of Phoenix firefighters on arson charges.
But as the weeks passed, Koebel said he had started to feel disillusioned, not with Joe Arpaio, but with others involved in how things had gone down on the story.
At one point, he testified that he'd told Bob Sullivan, "Doesn't it feel now like you've made a deal with Tony Soprano?"
Koebel was referring to Chief Hendershott. "It seemed like that [rape] story aired," he said, "and the implications were, 'Now, are you in the back pocket of Chief Hendershott?'"
But other local media that had filed their own public-records requests for the Ruby Norman police reports got quite a different response than Rob Koebel.
For instance, New Times filed its request for the Saban report on May 24. Sheriff's officials at first responded by claiming they didn't have the reports anymore, because they had forwarded everything they had to the Pima County Sheriff's Office. That was a lie.
An employee of the Pima County agency later signed an affidavit saying that Maricopa County had faxed its Norman police report and transcript, not mailed it.
It took New Times 144 days to get the Saban police report, and then only after the paper filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court. (Judge Michael Jones later ruled against the newspaper in its larger suit aimed at obtaining a wide range of public records from the sheriff's office. The case is now before the Arizona Court of Appeals.)
On June 14, 2004, the Pima County Sheriff's Office announced that prosecutors in its county and at the Arizona Attorney General's Office had advised the agency to drop the Saban case, which it did.
Two weeks after that, the Saban camp informed Channel 15 that Rob Koebel had donated $100 to Joe Arpaio's campaign earlier that year.
The station fired Koebel that July 8.
Remarkably, Koebel admitted in his deposition that he had discussed becoming a public information officer with the sheriff's office after his firing. But the discussions apparently never got serious.
"It [was] apparent from all sides that that would have been the stupidest political move that we could have made," Koebel testified.
"When you say 'we,' you mean the [sheriff's office] and yourself?" Joel Robbins asked.
"Of course," Koebel said. "I think they feel bad when, you know, Saban uses a $100 donation [to get me fired], which they probably should have paid me ? [Arpaio's office] probably should have paid me to do the story as opposed to the other way around. So people feel bad."
In spite of Channel 15's hit piece, Saban won the political endorsement of all the major police unions and fraternal organizations in Maricopa County and statewide in the summer of 2004.
Probably more important, Senator John McCain publicly backed the tainted challenger against one of the nation's most famous (many would say infamous) sheriffs.
But, in the end, Saban couldn't overcome Arpaio, though the sheriff's victory margin of 12 percent certainly wasn't the rout that experts originally had envisioned.
Soon after losing the primary, Saban received a letter from Rob Koebel, who had left Arizona and was looking into other lines of work.
"Danny," the former reporter wrote, "I guess you learned a lot through the campaign! Voters don't vote for losers, cry babies . . . Guys with multiple police investigations don't make the best candidate for sheriff." He signed off with, "Love and kisses, Rob Koebel."
Asked at his deposition last November who he considered the victims of this sordid affair, Rob Koebel replied that he saw three: himself, Ruby Norman, and Joe Arpaio.
Koebel wasn't represented by an attorney at his daylong deposition. Instead, he was accompanied by an unnamed gentleman he claimed is writing a book about his life.
Dan Saban has continued as police chief of Buckeye, one of the Valley's fastest-growing cities. Last month, he announced that he again wants to challenge Arpaio in the 2008 election, this time as a Democrat.
Chief Saban surely will run on much the same platform as in 2004 -- that it's time to clean house at an agency he sees as corrupt at the top. Dave Hendershott, who works at the pleasure of Sheriff Arpaio, certainly would be the first to go.
Saban recently got an ugly preview of what to expect during his 2008 campaign against Arpaio. It came during a December 28 segment on KTAR radio on which he appeared with former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who was guest host that day.
Saban received several positive phone calls during the show. But, near the end, Romley took one from Lisa Allen MacPherson, Arpaio's forgetful public information officer.
"I think a lot of these people who are calling in supporting Mr. Saban are the same people that keep supporting him," MacPherson said. "He's probably told his cronies, a few people that are disgruntled with the sheriff's office, to call in . . . Arpaio is phenomenally popular with everybody, and it's never changed."
MacPherson then got down and dirty.
"And as far as Dan Saban is concerned, and his second attempt at running for sheriff -- I think when all the cards are out on the table, people are going to find out what a disgraceful person Dan Saban really is."
That comment illustrates what Saban was referring to in March 2004, when he wrote to his supporters that the sheriff's office was about to ramp up "a `smear' campaign against me for issues in my personal life."
Rick Romley seemed taken aback for a moment, then asked Saban what he had to say.
"I have no response for Lisa," Saban said. "She knows how I feel about this whole situation."
As for Joe Arpaio, he revealed how he views himself in relation to the law during his January 10 deposition in the Saban suit.
Saban attorney Robbins asked the sheriff about his definition of "conflict of interest," a key legal concept in the lawsuit.
To Robbins' way of thinking, Arpaio and Hendershott had (and have) a substantial monetary interest in the sheriff's reelection. That should have caused them to recuse themselves from the Saban investigation -- especially after Hendershott heard firsthand what Ruby Norman had to say about the sheriff's main opposition.
"I have no idea what a conflict of interest is until you study the situation," Arpaio testified. "I can't give you a specific on what is a conflict of interest. If my brother was going to be investigated, would that be a conflict of interest? I don't know. I would probably investigate my brother, so that's a hard one to answer."
Robbins asked Arpaio if he has "any rules or guidelines that you know of that would help you to determine if there is a conflict of interest."
"I have no rules," Maricopa County's top lawman said. "I have nothing down in black-and-white that I know of that's going to force me to make a decision based on any rule, regulation . . . I am the sheriff, I have the authority to investigate anybody in this county, and I take that very serious."
That statement may say more about Sheriff Arpaio and how he and his agency do business than anything that Dan Saban or anyone else could possibly allege.
Posted with permission of the Phoenix New Times. This article is available on the Phoenix New Times website at the following link:
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login