Panel Votes to Curb Federal Agents’ Powers in Arizona

Feb 13, 2014

A Senate panel voted Wednesday to make it a crime for federal agents to operate in the state without first getting approval from the local sheriff. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

The legislation says a federal employee who is not a state-certified peace officer cannot make an arrest, a search or a seizure in Arizona without written consent of the sheriff. And, it says the sheriff can withhold that permission for any reason. There are exceptions, such as when a federal employee witnesses certain crimes. And none of this would interfere with the work of customs or border patrol.

Former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack told members of the Public Safety Committee that provides a check and balance against what he called atrocities committed by federal agents, like the 1992 confrontation at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, between federal agents and Randy Weaver that left Weaver’s wife and son dead, and a 51-day standoff the following year at Waco ending with an assault by federal agents on the Branch Davidian compound and a fire that killed 76.

“This will be normal activity and will continue if we don’t have somebody locally telling the federal government, ‘You can’t do that.’ Who at this time tells the federal government how far they can go and how far their jurisdiction goes,” Mack said.

Only Sen. Andrea Dalessandro voted against the measure. She said some provisions make no sense, like requiring a county attorney to prosecute a federal agent who does not register — and then making the county attorney himself or herself subject to prosecution for refusing to do that.