The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) and Protect America Now are the most prominent, public-facing “constitutional sheriff” organizations in the nation. Domestic extremism research groups have identified them as anti-government, anti-democratic or far-right organizations.

Whether or not a sheriff adopts the core ideologies of the movement is a more telling factor about how they approach their job, including how they interact with constituents and other government agencies, opposed to a self-described moniker as a constitutional sheriff. To that end, AZCIR used additional criteria beyond group affiliation to define which sheriffs are part of the extremist “constitutional sheriff” movement. 

The movement is built around a radical ideology that the sheriff’s power within his or her county is superseded by no state or federal government entity but is guided by the sheriff’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Nullification, or refusing to enforce laws or mandates a sheriff deems unconstitutional, is a core part of the ideology.

AZCIR used criteria established by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and then confirmed these methods with another domestic extremism expert. 

To be identified as a “constitutional sheriff” a sheriff must meet at least one of the following four criteria.

  1. The sheriff is a member of the CSPOA, or is directly affiliated with the group through any one of the following: hosting, attending or taking part in broadcasts that are coordinated by CSPOA, without publicly denouncing the group and/or its beliefs in public comments or statements.
  2. The sheriff has endorsed the CSPOA or its leader Richard Mack.
  3. The sheriff is a leader of Protect America Now, on their advisory committee or holds another leadership position within the organization.
  4. The sheriff has demonstrated that they understand and support the “constitutional sheriff” ideology through rhetoric or actions consistent with the movement, typically a refusal to enforce current or future laws or mandates within their county boundaries, with an explanation that describes the laws or mandates as unconstitutional.

AZCIR compared this criteria to sheriffs’ social media posts, media appearances, public statements, open-letters and interviews, as well as related documents such as emails and other public records.  AZCIR also made repeated attempts, via phone and email, to interview each Arizona sheriff about their positions on the movement.

Based on AZCIR’s methodology, membership in Protect America Now alone is not enough for a sheriff to be labeled a “constitutional sheriff.” The group was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-government extremist list in 2021, so it is unclear whether members are aware of the extent to which the organization’s leadership spreads extremist ideologies. 

Apache County Sheriff | Joe Dedman Jr.

Status: Unknown

Did not respond to multiple requests for comment. AZCIR found no indications that Dedman supports the core ideologies of the movement or the nullification of laws.

Apache County Sheriff’s Office Website


Cochise County Sheriff | Mark Dannels

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

AZCIR confirmed Dannels was a speaker at a 2019 CSPOA event. He openly supports the nullification of certain laws or mandates. Dannels declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Sheriff Dannels is completely booked with other commitments for the foreseeable future, so we will not be able to get together at this time,” wrote Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Carol Capas in response to an interview request from AZCIR.

Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Website


Coconino County Sheriff | Jim Driscoll

Status: Unknown

Declined to be interviewed. AZCIR found no indications that Driscoll supports the core ideologies of the movement or the nullification of laws.

“The Sheriff advised he has no opinion or stance on the constitutional sheriff movement,” wrote Coconino County Public Information Officer Jon Paxton in response to an interview request from AZCIR.

Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Website


Gila County Sheriff | J. Adam Shepherd

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Shepherd has publicly spoken about the nullification of at least one law or mandate that he deems unconstitutional. He is not a member of Protect America Now and there are no clear associations between him and CSPOA. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Gila County Sheriff’s Office Website


Graham County Sheriff | Preston “PJ” Allred

Status: Unknown

Did not respond to multiple requests for comment. AZCIR found no indications that Allred supports the core ideologies of the movement or the nullification of laws.

Graham County Sheriff’s Office Website


Greenlee County Sheriff | Tim Sumner

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Sumner is a member of Protect America Now. He has publicly spoken about the nullification of at least one law or mandate that he deems unconstitutional. Sumner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office Website


La Paz County Sheriff | William Ponce

Status: Not a constitutional sheriff

Ponce is a member of Protect America Now, who describes himself as a “constitutional sheriff.” Ponce said he was more comfortable being a member of the organization instead of being affiliated with the CSPOA, because CSPOA is a “bit more forceful” in “their presentation and interpretation of the Constitution.” He said he was unaware that the Southern Poverty Law Centered had labeled Protect America Now an extremist organization and that it was “unfortunate.”

Despite self-labeling himself as a “constitutional sheriff,” Ponce said he doesn’t want to be “lumped in with certain other people” who make the same claim “because they have a different view or thought process on how this works.”

“I can’t make that determination not to enforce it [a law],” Ponce told AZCIR. “I’m going to have to enforce it if it’s an actual law.”

La Paz County Sheriff’s Office Website


Maricopa County Sheriff | Paul Penzone

Status: Not a constitutional sheriff.

Penzone, who has labeled himself a “constitutional sheriff,” falls short of conforming to the ideologies of the movement. Penzone denounced the “weaponization of the Constitution” as a way to move forward sheriffs’ or groups’ ideologies or political beliefs.

“I would expect that everyone who takes the oath of office does it with the understanding that the Constitution is the foundation,” he told AZCIR. “I find it to be almost in some ways, an exaggeration or embellishment, as though your efforts [as a constitutional sheriff] exceed those of others.”

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Website


Mohave County Sheriff | Doug Schuster

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Schuster has not pushed back on being described as a “constitutional sheriff” and has publicly spoken about the nullification of at least one law or mandate that he deems unconstitutional. He is not known to be connected to any constitutional sheriff organization. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Website


Navajo County Sheriff | David Clouse

Status: Unknown

Did not respond to multiple requests for comment. AZCIR found no indications that Clouse supports the core ideologies of the movement or the nullification of laws.

Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Website


Pima County Sheriff | Chris Nanos

Status: Not a constitutional sheriff

Nanos denounced the constitutional sheriff movement and the nullification of laws.

“Constitutional sheriffs have hijacked law enforcement. They did nothing but a political venture. They lost their integrity,” Nanos told AZCIR. “If my constituents want a constitutional sheriff, I guess they’ll vote one in, but, for me, that’s not what this job is about.”

Pima County Sheriff’s Department Website


Pinal County Sheriff | Mark Lamb

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Lamb is the frontman of Protect America Now. He was previously involved with the CSPOA, though he has since attempted to distance himself from the organization. 

Speaking at a 2020 CSPOA event in Virginia, Lamb recalls a conversation he had with CSPOA Founder Richard Mack and CSPOA Vice President Rick Dalton before he was sworn into office as Pinal County sheriff. 

“We talked in depth about the Constitution, and I committed to them – much like I committed to everybody that I’ve come across – to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States,” Lamb told the crowd of law enforcement officers. “I left that meeting that day very optimistic as to where we were going in the future.”

Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Website


Santa Cruz County | David Hathaway

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Hathaway is not known to be connected to any constitutional sheriff organization. He agrees with the core idea of nullifying laws or mandates that he deems unconstitutional, but not the idea that the sheriff is the ultimate authority in his county.

“It’d be inappropriate for a sheriff to say, ‘I’m the ultimate authority on everything in my county.’ That’s just not true,” Hathaway told AZCIR.

Hathaway is cognizant of the potential threats by an overreaching executive branch, which includes sheriffs. 

“There is a risk of the executive branch becoming too powerful, and then you have things like in foreign countries, where you have coups that were carried out by the executive branch,” he told AZCIR.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Website


Yavapai County Sheriff | David Rhodes

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Rhodes has not identified himself as a constitutional sheriff, but he has welcomed the label when applied to him by constituents. There is no evidence that Rhodes is a member of Protect America Now or the CSPOA, but CSPOA Founder Richard Mack claims to have had “a lot of contact” with Rhodes.

“I’m not gonna enforce these executive orders (any that target gun control),” Rhodes told members of the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, a local Oath Keepers group, in September. “They’re unconstitutional. Period.”

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Website


Yuma County Sheriff | Leon Wilmot

Status: Confirmed “constitutional sheriff”

Wilmot was praised in 2022 by CSPOA for his investigations into election fraud. He was listed on its website as a “Sheriff Committed to Investigating Election Fraud.” Though AZCIR found nothing to strongly indicate the relationship went both ways, Wilmot has publicly supported aspects of CSPOA’s core ideology. 

“He [Sheriff Wilmot] states he is not a member of the organization, nor aware of any movement,” wrote Yuma Public Affairs Specialist Tania Pavlak when declining an interview request for Wilmot.

Yuma County Sheriff’s Office Website

Isaac Stone Simonelli

Isaac Stone Simonelli is a Roy W. Howard Fellow for AZCIR as part of a year-long investigative reporting fellowship.