(CNSNews.com) – Arizona’s Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who on Saturday suggested radio and television talk shows were somehow responsible for inciting a man who may be mentally disturbed to kill six people and wound 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), once blamed policymakers for violence in his county because they had stopped institutionalizing mentally ill people.
Dupnik also suggested that local schools should check the immigration status of students and that many of the social problems in his county were attributable to illegal immigration--remarks that some fellow Democrats cited as “inflammatory” while demanding an apology from the sheriff.
Additionally, Dupnik once told residents in part of his county to buy guns to protect themselves because he did not believe his department, given its limited resources, could adequately do the job themselves.
Dupnik expressed his views about mentally ill people not being institutionalized to the Tucson Citizen newspaper in September 1999 after four people had been shot by local law enforcement officers in the course of a single week. The Citizen published the sheriff’s remarks in its Sept. 21, 1999 edition in a story by staff writer Michael R. Graham that ran under the headline “Dupnik: guns, drink making streets unsafe.”
"Each day, a higher percentage of the population is armed. And a lot of them are emotionally disturbed, violent, psychotic, and they drink too much," Dupnik told The Citizen. "When they drink and lose their temper and a firearm is available, they pose a threat to society."
"I'm not sure it's safe for anyone on the streets today," Dupnik said.
According to The Citizen, Dupnik said he did not believe that the public was becoming more violent generally. Then he blamed “an element in our society” for no longer institutionalizing mentally ill people.
"Thirty-five to 40 years ago, an element in our society believed mental institutions were places of abuse for mentally ill patients," Dupnik told The Citizen. "Those people created policies to remove people from institutions, and where are they now? On the streets."
Early in his career as Pima County sheriff, Dupnik had attracted attention by suggesting that citizens in a part of Pima County buy guns to protect themselves because his sheriff’s department lacked the resources to do it.
On April 3, 1981, the Associated Press published a story headlined “Sheriff Tells Residents to Arm Themselves for Protection.” The top paragraph of the story, datelined Tucson, said: “Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has advised Pima County residents to arm themselves because his decimated department lacks the manpower to protect them.”
"Not only are things not good, they are going to get worse," Dupnik said at a meeting with residents of an area called Avra Valley, according to the Associated Press. "For those who are so inclined, it's time to start protecting yourselves."
The Associated Press added: “He said he was not suggesting people take the law into their own hands or form vigilante committees, but should keep guns in their homes and learn how to use them for protection.”
The AP reported that Dupnik’s suggestion met with a mixed response: “While most of the residents seemed willing to take up arms to protect their homes, several were skeptical. One, Army Sgt. Michael Taylor, said, ‘It's stupid for people to arm themselves because when they get angry they forget weapons safety.’”
In 2009, leading Democrats in Pima County, including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called on Dupnik to apologize after he said that local schools should check the immigration status of their students and that many of the “social problems” in the county could be attributed to illegal immigration.
Dupnik first made his remarks about checking the immigration status of local students at an April 20, 2009 field hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee that was conducted in Phoenix by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Dupnik then repeated his idea and the rationale for it at a press conference and in newspaper interviews.
In an April 29, 2009 story, reporting on a press conference Dupnik had given the previous day, the Arizona Daily Star summarized the controversy Dupnik’s remarks had sparked.
“At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Dupnik said he made the comments at a Senate hearing in Phoenix on April 20 because he wanted to seize the opportunity to weigh in on a sensitive topic he believes needs to be addressed,” the Daily Star reported.
"It's wrong for the taxpayers in this country to spend the millions and millions and millions of dollars that we do catering to illegals," Dupnik said at the press conference. "I don't think you'll find other countries doing that for other citizens."
The Daily Star then reported that in an April 21, 2009 interview with the paper Dupnik had argued that reducing the number of illegal immigrants would reduce crime and other problems in the area.
“Fewer illegal immigrants, he [Dupnik] said,” the Daily Star reported, “would help reduce crime and other social problems because most of the social problems that plague Pima County originate on the South and Southwest sides, where many illegal immigrants reside.”
The Daily Star included a direct quote from Dupnik on this point.
"Whether you are talking about school performance, or dropouts, or gang affiliation, or one-parent homes or poverty, you name the social problem, that's where they are all concentrated," Dupnik told the Daily Star. "That has to do with illegal immigration."
At the same time, Dupnik stressed to the newspaper that he had no intention of sending law enforcement officers into the schools to enforce the immigration laws.
"We are not going into classrooms, into schools looking for illegal students," Dupnik said. "I find that thought repugnant and repulsive. We will never do that as long as I happen to be the sheriff here."
Rep. Grijalva told the paper that the type of remarks Dupnik had made created “racial tensions.”
"To make a categorical statement that all the crime and the dysfunction in Tucson and Pima County emanates from one part of the community is outrageous and it's stereotypical and based on who lives there, creates racial tensions where they shouldn't be," Grijalva said.
A spokesman for Rep. Garielle Giffords responded more diplomatically to Dupnik’s remarks. Spokesman C.J. Karamargin told the Daily Star that Giffords supported the 1982 Supreme Court decision that made it illegal for schools to check the immigration status of students but said that Giffords, as the paper put it, “understands Dupnik’s concerns.”
"Sheriff Dupnik is expressing a sense of frustration that is acutely felt by Arizona's border communities," Karamargin said in a statement, the Daily Star reported. "Illegal immigration is exacting a tremendous toll on our schools, hospitals, law enforcement and social-service agencies."
On May 4, 2009, a group of local Democratic elected officials, led by Rep. Grijalva, sent a letter to fellow Democrat Dupnik calling on him to apologize for his remarks, including a statement in which he had alleged that 40 percent of the students in one Pima County school district were illegal aliens.
"Children attending schools, regardless of their immigration status, are not the cause of our problems, nor should we publically target them," the letter said. "We have an obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children are always safe and secure."
On Dupnik’s assertion that 40 percent of the students in one school district were illegal aliens, the letter said: "These false charges are inflammatory and prejudicial. … Your comments only further divide our community and debase a large part of the population."
The Daily Star reported that Dupnik responded to the letter by saying that blogs indicated that not that many people were upset by his remarks. “Asked why his remarks had upset so many people, Dupnik said he did not believe he had riled that many,” the Daily Star reported. “‘If you read the blogs, and I don't know if you do, I think you'll have a different opinion’” Dupnik said.
In a press conference on Saturday, not long after the shooting, Sheriff Dupnik called Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Tucson attack, “unbalanced,” but also said America needs to do some “soul searching” over the rhetoric on radio and some television programs.
“And I think it's time as a country that we need to do a little soul-searching, because I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in,” Dupnik said. “And I think it's time that we do the soul-searching.”
And later in the same press conference, Dupnik said, “But, again, I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
--Michael Chapman contributed to this report.