Maricopa County sheriff helping officials monitor threats ahead of general election

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is holding a special safety summit for election officials as it monitors possible threats against them.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 8:36 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- As Arizona gears up for the November general election, those running for office are campaigning in a tension-filled time full of strong opinions. As a result, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is hosting an elections safety summit on Thursday to help elected officials and those running for office keep track of any threats.

It’s welcome news for elected officials like Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who says he’s experienced hundreds of threatening emails, voicemails, and other forms of correspondence. That includes one voicemail from 50-year-old Missouri resident Walter Lee Hoornstra, who was indicted this week on two charges involving threatening messages.

“If you do what you’re doing, you’re not going to make it to your next board meeting,” Richer said as he repeated some of the content from that voicemail. “There’s one person that’s not mentally well who could be prepared to do something about it. And so we do take it seriously when there are any threats of physical harm to me or other members of the staff.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone wants to ensure that other elected officials do the same. So he’s organizing a summit with various law enforcement and county supervisors to discuss threat management.

“When it comes to harassment, when it comes to threats, when it comes to anything that could potentially put you as a victim of a crime, we want you to understand that,” Penzone said. “We also want you to be able to understand how to gather information that could be helpful for us for the investigation so that we can put together a case to prosecute someone if necessary.”

That could mean something as simple as saving audio or screenshots of any potentially threatening messages. But Penzone says it’s also important for elected officials and those running for office to know how their own words can be interpreted.

“Although your First Amendment right will always be protected, you have to understand that words matter,” he said. “And words inspire people to act in a way that could be criminal in nature.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to control someone with an agenda. Richer hopes when that agenda turns threatening, no one, from any political background, comes to the instigator’s defense. “I hope that people also condemn this type of action,” Richer said. “Because otherwise it has a real chilling effect on people entering these industries.”

Tomorrow’s event runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the MCSO Training Auditorium (2627 S. 35th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85009). It was initially intended for only those in Maricopa County but is now open to anyone in the state.