PHOENIX — Warning of federal “atrocities,” former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack talked a Senate panel into making it a crime for federal agents to operate in Arizona without first getting written approval from the county sheriff.
Mack told members of the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday that county sheriffs are the only elected law enforcement officers in the country. That, he said, means they answer to — and are responsible for protecting — the people.
“And then we allow bureaucrats from Washington, D.C., to come in and supersede his authority, and to do whatever they want in his county, and they (the sheriffs) can say nothing about it?” Mack said.
SB 1290, sponsored by Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, says a federal employee who is not a state-certified peace officer cannot make an arrest, or conduct 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 officers.
“We’re asking that the federal government do something they should already be doing: verifying their work and what they’re doing with the sheriff as a check and balance so that atrocities committed in the 1990s especially by the federal government at Ruby Ridge and Waco and other places” do not happen here, Mack said.
Ruby Ridge was the site of a 1992 Idaho confrontation between federal agents and Randy Weaver that left Weaver’s wife and son dead. The 51-day standoff at Waco in 1993 ended with an assault on the compound occupied by the Branch Davidians and leader David Koresh by federal agents, with the resulting fire killing 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,’” Mack said.
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said some parts of the bill make no sense. For example, one provision requires a county attorney to prosecute a federal employee who doesn’t get permission — and making that county attorney subject to prosecution himself or herself for refusing to do that.
“You can’t demand the county attorney, who also is an elected official, to do something,” she said.
Mack is best known for his own high-profile fight with the federal government. He got the U.S. Supreme Court to void a provision of the federal Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, ruling that Congress had no right to require him as a local official to conduct background checks.