In the Sheriff We Trust


Under 1 million division

Submitted by

Lauren Mucciolo
Executive producer, Howard Center for Investigative Journalism
Cronkite School of Journalism, ASU


In the Sheriff We Trust
The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit newsroom dedicated to statewide, data-driven investigative reporting, has spent more than a year investigating the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA. The controversial group, founded in Arizona, believes elected sheriffs have supreme authority over the state and federal government and must “protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government” by refusing to enforce any law they deem unconstitutional or “unjust.” In January 2023, AZCIR joined forces with the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, a graduate student-powered newsroom in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, on an ambitious, seven-month investigation to track the national expansion of this controversial group. The resulting project is a first-of-its-kind look at the extent to which the group has spread its ideology across the nation, including through taxpayer-funded training for local law enforcement. The investigation found that: - The sheriffs group has spread its ideology to at least 30 states, becoming more mainstream in part by securing state approval for taxpayer-funded law enforcement training. - It has held formal trainings on its “constitutional” curriculum for law enforcement officers in at least 13 states over the past five years. - In six states, the sheriffs training was approved for law enforcement officers’ continuing education credits. - The group also has supporters who sit on three state boards in charge of setting law enforcement training standards. - At least a dozen U.S. counties influenced by the sheriffs group have considered “constitutional county” resolutions over the past two years, which range from a simple reaffirmation of support for the constitutional rights of county residents to empowering local government, including sheriffs, to refuse to enforce state and federal laws they interpret as unconstitutional. To track the spread of the sheriffs group, reporters filed public records requests to nearly every state in the nation, to include state law enforcement standards and training boards, county sheriff's offices and other local agencies, for information related to CSPOA and its communications with officials. Reporters ultimately reviewed thousands of pages of emails and other correspondence, listened to hours of CSPOA internal board meetings, scoured financial records, corporate filings and court documents, and spoke with dozens of national domestic extremism experts, community members, public officials and county sheriffs. Questions from reporters were accompanied by major changes at CSPOA, including the resignation of half of its advisory board and departure of a state director in Arizona. The group’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor, Gorilla Learning Institute, also scrubbed its website of references to CSPOA and its California chapter Friends of CSPOA. In Nevada, Captain Harry Means of the Nye County Sheriff’s Office told reporters in an Aug. 15 email to the Howard Center, “after review of the training material that was submitted and the associated organization behind this course, we have submitted for decertification of this training course to NV POST,” the state’s policing oversight agency. “In the Sheriff We Trust,” published on on Aug. 21, 2023, includes an overview story, two sidebar stories, a nine-minute video documentary and a methodology explainer. A condensed version of the main story was published by The Associated Press, leading to pick-up in more than 200 nationwide media outlets, from the Los Angeles Times to the Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune and ABC News digital. The AP version was the second-most viewed story on and also drove significant traffic back to
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