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Pima County lawyer slammed, defended over Arpaio piñata

Maricopa County sheriff smashed in effigy at July 10 rally

Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia is also a human rights activist and to some, a polarizing figure.

Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia is also a human rights activist and to some, a polarizing figure.

Controversy continued Tuesday over Isabel Garcia, the Pima County legal defender who carried a papier-mâché head of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in front of a cheering crowd during a protest last month.

The issue was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting, but about 20 speakers – about half in support of Garcia and half in protest of her actions – came to a microphone during a call to the audience.

During a July 10 protest she organized, Garcia, who is a defense attorney, was seen holding the paper head – which had been beaten off of a piñata by youths wielding sticks – while the crowd cheered. The episode sparked calls for Garcia’s disbarment and firing.

The issue is not about immigration or Joe Arpaio, who was in Tucson for a book signing, but about Garcia, who is also director of the Coalición de Derechos Hermanos, inciting children to violence, Kendra Wood said.

“I don’t think she has any business holding a position of public trust,” Wood told the supervisors.

Kat Rodriguez of Derechos Hermanos, sent the supervisors a letter supporting Garcia. The letter contained 739 signatures supporting a woman who has worked tirelessly for immigrants’ rights, Rodriguez said.

The protest was not intended to incite violence; it was a traditional form of protest, she said.

“It was a symbol of the oppression we have seen,” Rodriguez said.

Lori Oien seemed less concerned about Garcia’s actions than the county’s reaction.

“What is concerning to me is your approval by silence,” she said.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said after the meeting that the county is looking into Garcia’s actions. The Legal Defender’s Office, which Garcia heads, takes indigent defense cases the Pima County public defender can’t because of conflicts or other reasons.

“It’s under review,” he said.

Several speakers decried Garcia’s actions as hurtful to law enforcement officers. Larry Lopez, president of the Tucson Police Officers Association, demanded an investigation.

“Law enforcement around this state does not think this is funny,” he said.

Leilani Clark was at the July 10 protest and held the piñata. She denied Garcia had any hand in what the youths did.

“She had no control over us. . . . We acted on our own,” Clark said.

In other business, the supervisors:

• Approved a $20 million, two-year contract for psychiatric care at the Pima County Jail. The contract with Conmed Healthcare Management will boost available psychiatric care from 10 hours a week to 80 hours.

• Postponed a resolution affirming the county’s support of the Clean Water Act. The resolution comes after the Army Corps of Engineers first deemed parts of the Santa Cruz River navigable, then announced a plan to reverse that decision. That reversal is not yet in effect.

If the river is deemed navigable, Environmental Protection Agency regulations kick in that could restrict building along the river and its tributaries.

The county will meet with interested parties, including the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, before voting on the resolution.

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