But last week, Shaq flushed that goodwill down the toilet when he visited Phoenix and gladly became part of the latest publicity stunt from America's Lamest Sheriff, Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio.
Breathlessly referred to as "Sheriff Joe" by fawning, chickenshit television reporters, Arpaio has been known as "Sheriff Joke" by other law enforcement agencies for years. Lauded by morons for supposedly being tough on crime Arpaio puts his inmates in tents! Women inmates work on chain gangs! other Arizona law enforcement types know the truth: Arpaio's a liar and a reckless endangerer of his own employees.
For years, New Times' sister paper in Phoenix has exposed how Arpaio says one thing and does another, and his fabrications are always calculated to get him interviews with airhead TV reporters. But there's a sick side to Arpaio's antics: He persuades the public that he's fighting crime by encouraging his jail guards to rough up inmates 70 percent of whom are presumed innocent and awaiting trial, the rest of whom are serving short sentences for things like failure to appear on traffic matters. Everything the aging sheriff does is calculated to get him on television, not reduce crime. He's also comically paranoid. In 1999, Phoenix New Times exposed how Arpaio's goons even used a jail snitch to encourage a vulnerable young inmate to take part in a half-assed assassination plot on Arpaio just so the sheriff could set up an arrest in front of TV cameras. That young inmate was acquitted when it became clear even to a jury made up of conservative Arizonans that he'd been entrapped in the sheriff's bizarre plot to victimize himself for the PR value.
We could forgive Shaq for being the latest patsy to accept a tour of Arpaio's infamous tent jail while he was visiting for a game against the Phoenix Suns plenty of otherwise sensible people have. But according to the Arizona Republic, O'Neal's photo op with the Jokester was no accident: Shaq's apparently been a fan of Arpaio's for some time. The Heat center is even an admirer of Arpaio's unintentionally hilarious 1996 autobiography, America's Toughest Sheriff.
Hey, Shaq. Did you read the part in Arpaio's book where he describes working, like Wile E. Coyote, "undercover" in the black part of Washington, D.C., back in the 1950s disguised in sunglasses and hiding behind trees?
Maybe the big fella should have concentrated more on his game. The Heat went down to an ignominious 111-93 loss, with Shaq having his worst game in recent memory, scoring just eight points.
What was in that iced tea Sheriff Joke passed out?
Start the Year Wrong
The first Broward birth of 2006 was five-pound, eight-ounce Le-ann Emily Clarke, who made her way into the new year just 73 minutes after midnight. Of course, she was positively snail-like compared with the first Broward arrestee of 2006, 240-pound Demetric Harden of Lauderhill.
In fact, there was a paddywagon-load of jackrabbits who could barely wait to get off on the wrong foot in 2006 by being arrested by the Broward Sheriff's Office. The early minutes of the New Year went something like this:
12:50 a.m., a Lauderhill officer stopped Harden's black Toyota for having an obscured tag. A background check revealed that the 24-year-old had an outstanding warrant for driving without a valid license last year. Harden wins the dubious prize of being the county's first 2006 arrest.
1:39 a.m., Matthew Rounds was refused entry to a club at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Then the 31-year-old did what anyone would have done less than two hours after the champagne corks popped: He tried to climb a fence to get in. Security noticed, Rounds protested, and police arrested him.
1:40 a.m., a Fort Lauderdale officer responded to a disturbance involving Kristopher Brandon King at Revolution nightclub. After being told "no less than 20 times" to scram, King, who appeared to the officer to be intoxicated, was arrested for trespassing after a warning.
2 a.m., a Lauderhill officer went to the home of Terry Christopher Justice and busted the 42-year-old on an outstanding warrant for violating parole on an original battery charge. Over the past 16 years, Justice has been arrested and charged with robbery, cocaine possession, assault, and felony driving with a suspended license. Call him Speedy Justice. Even with a rap sheet like that, two hours after midnight is fast.
The Year of Sinking Dangerously
With its hurricanes and high gas prices, 2005 was not a good year for South Florida casino cruises, which travel several miles out beyond city jurisdiction so that passengers can gamble. For one thing, the competition is heating up like popcorn in a movie lobby. Last month, Florida lawmakers approved the addition of slot machines at four Broward gaming venues, in a market now flush with options, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming Center.
Four South Florida floating casino enterprises are now swimming with the fishes, and two are under investigation for a delicious cornucopia of larcenies. The year went something like this for the cruise-and-lose industry:
April: SunCruz closed its casino operations in Hollywood.
June: U.S. marshals seized the St. Tropez Casino Cruise in Port Everglades four months after it filed for bankruptcy.
July: The Casino Princesa, which operated out of Miami's Bayfront Park for seven years, was sold and relocated to Georgia.
August: The Atlantic Casino ceased operation from the Miami Beach Marina, where it remains parked though unused. The owners of SeaEscape, a Fort Lauderdale casino cruise company, were convicted of running a credit card scam that led to the failure of a Colorado bank in 1998. Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan were indicted on federal charges of fraud involving their purchase of SunCruz in 2000.
September: Police arrested four suspects for the 2001 murder of SunCruz founder Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis in Fort Lauderdale. (Nicknames include "Little Tony," "Big Tony," and "Pudgy. ") Two of the four suspects had financial ties to Kidan.
But optimism dies harder than a gambler's prayers. On January 6, the Horizon's Edge, a three-level tub that can hold 500 passengers, headed out of Miami with a salsa band, a spiffy crew, and 130 hopeful gamblers. It was the boat's maiden gaming voyage, and David Zion, the goateed CEO of Horizon's Edge (the company that owns the boat of the same name) said, if things break right, he expects to be netting $50,000 a night.
The 'Pipe is holding his breath.
A Forest Called Home
It wasn't pretty, but it was a sanctuary for a few dozen homeless people. Come to think of it, it was pretty, despite the empty Thunderbird bottles and tin cans strewn around and the unwashed bodies reclining in the dirt. The huge swath of Australian pines near Peters Road and State Road 7 known to regulars for 20 years or so as Sherwood Forest took a huge hit in the wake of Hurricane Wilma. Its imposing thicket thinned to a sad collection of stumps, its tall trees twisted like snapped matchsticks. And now it's gone, its denizens scattered through the neighborhood and God knows where.
"The city [Fort Lauderdale] took it over, and they're clearing it," explains Paul Ferraro, whose Crystal Pool Supply shop abuts the property. "It's up for grabs."
When New Times last visited Sherwood Forest (see "A Sort of Sanctuary," Jeff Stratton, December 23, 2004), a rumpled assortment of alcoholics, unemployed menials, mental patients, sick people, and sundry representatives of the vast horde of the unlucky formed a loose community and drinking society under the pines. There was a kind of safety net there of fellow refugees who, if nothing else, would share a can of Natural Ice under the stars and listen to your sad story.
Sherwood Forest has always been city property, of course, unused land pressed up against the pump stations west of I-95, but it hasn't been a high priority, as far as land-use bureaucrats were concerned. They called it "surplus property," and someday, they said, they'd get around to figuring out a use for it.
Well, with Wilma rampaging through the forest, sending the Sherwoodians scurrying, the city recently decided to recoup the land for official purposes, to slot it back into the deep freeze of unencumbered city property, and then take the opportunity to make this ragtag collection of homeless folks move on. Keep on movin', buddy. Can't squat here. The fence around the place is now adorned with huge, eye-catching "City of Fort Lauderdale NO TRESPASSING" signs and its once-inviting gate padlocked.
For the 'Pipe, it was a sad postscript to a week when, amid stories of bat-wielding thugs attacking homeless men, Fort Lauderdale showed itself to be one of the most coldly inhospitable cities he has visited.
RIP, Sherwood Forest.
As told to Edmund Newton