Now that President Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been formally validated by a U.S. district court judge, one might assume that “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” as the 85-year-old former Maricopa County sheriff prefers to be known, is free to ride off into the sunset.
However, the very men who were instrumental in getting him to finally face justice aren’t about to quit now. In a November 17, 2017 article in the Phoenix New Times by Stephen Lemons, “The Enduring Sins of Joe Arpaio: Newspapermen Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin Speak Out in Response to Donald Trump’s Pardon of America’s Worst Sheriff,” the pair reminded the public that they continue to fight the good fight against a man who caused untold misery to countless people during his reign.
The New Times story revolves around an interview with Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, former co-owners of Village Voice Media, which publishes the New Times.
The pair famously won a lawsuit against Arpaio in 2013 after being arrested without cause–a violation of the Constitution–by Arpaio’s men. In the piece, the men acknowledge the unfairness of the presidential pardon. As stated by Lacey, “Rex Tillerson was right: Donald Trump is a moron and his pardon of Joe Arpaio proves it.”
Arpaio has been much in the news over the last few years for a variety of reasons. In November 2016, he lost his seventh bid for reelection as sheriff of Maricopa County. Learn more about Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey: http://james-larkin.com/about/ and http://www.phillypurge.com/2017/06/23/jim-larkin-michael-lacey-make-the-list-of-civil-rights-protectors/
After six terms and more than 24 years of ruling with an iron fist, Arpaio was soundly defeated by a Democratic opponent. While it is comforting to know that Arpaio no longer holds an elected office, many, like Larkin and Lacey, are speaking out against the fact that he has never been brought to justice for his many well-documented transgressions.
These transgressions have most famously been against Latinos and Hispanics, but they have impacted many others too.
While he was sheriff of Maricopa County, numerous inmates experienced pointless deaths while being incarcerated in county jails. In one famous example, a woman with diabetes was denied her medication until she finally slipped into a coma and passed away.
Due to the harsh conditions, inmate suicide rates skyrocketed under Sheriff Joe, with countless inmates choosing to hang themselves in their cells. Many others were forcibly confined in restraint chairs to the point of suffocation. All of these things and many others occurred under Arpaio’s watch–and, from all appearances, with his blessing.
Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of Arpaio’s cruelty is the “Tent City” that was established to help ease overcrowding in county jails.
Starting in 1993, just one year after he was elected sheriff for the first time, the Tent City exemplified the horrendous conditions that Arpaio and his men were more than happy to subject inmates to.
During the summer, temperatures at the camp would reach 135 degrees or so, leading to heat-related illnesses and deaths. Women who were unfortunate enough to be pregnant while incarcerated there were made to give birth while chained to their beds.
One thing that nearly all of Arpaio’s transgressions have in common is this: abuse of authority. Arpaio had retired from the Drug Enforcement Agency shortly before running for sheriff for the first time in 1992. Billed as a reform candidate, he easily won election and quickly started trying to live up to his self-described title of “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
From female chain gangs cleaning up roadsides to male inmates clad in pink jumpsuits and underwear, Arpaio enjoyed humiliating those who were serving time–as if being locked up isn’t punishment enough. There is no question that he repeatedly disregarded and flouted the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment during his reign.
Sheriff Joe ruled unchecked for some time–but then the Phoenix New Times zeroed in on him and started publishing stories exposing his corruption. What started as a campus newspaper by Larkin and Lacey eventually became a chain of independent newspapers, including the Village Voice out of NYC. The bad blood between Arpaio and the paper really kicked into gear in 2004, when New Times reporter John Dougherty published a story that included the sheriff’s physical address.
The story related how the sheriff, who only earned around $76,000 per year, somehow held commercial real estate properties valued at around $700,000. Arpaio had used a little-known law to have his name redacted from the property records, so the reporter published the only address that he could find.
With that single story, Arpaio launched a massive vendetta against Dougherty and the New Times. He worked tirelessly for three years trying to have the reporter prosecuted for publishing his address, citing an obscure law that makes it a felony to publish law enforcement officials’ addresses on the internet. The law said nothing about print, however.
After watching the sheriff try to prosecute their reporter for three years, Larkin and Lacey published a story in the New Times in October 2007. Titled “Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution,” the story highlighted how the sheriff was attempting to obtain information about the New Times reporters, editors and even its readers through an overly broad, unconstitutional subpoena.
Just a few hours later, unmarked vehicles with tinted windows and Mexican license plates arrived separately at the newspapermen’s homes, and Arpaio’s deputies arrested them. They were even handcuffed as they were led away.
The backlash over Larkin and Lacey’s arrests was fast and furious. In fact, it was so strong that Maricopa County county attorney Andrew Thomas, a crony of Sheriff Joe, was forced to hold a press conference less than 24 hours later. He announced that the arrests of the two men were improper, and the case was officially closed.
Larkin and Lacey decided to hold the sheriff accountable and sued. In late 2013, the board of supervisors elected to award the men $3.75 million. They used the money to start the Frontera Fund, an organization that seeks to protect the rights of Hispanics and Latinos.
Meanwhile, the racial profiling charges that had been levied against Arpaio and his department came to a head in 2016. Based on the lawsuit that was filed in 2007, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt in July. However, Sheriff Joe had endorsed Donald Trump for candidate way back in January 2016, and that move may have been calculated because Trump ultimately pardoned the sheriff, allowing him to get off scot-free.
As noted by Larkin and Lacey in the recent New Times story, Trump clearly did this mostly to pander to his base–and his base appears to be the same as Arpaio’s.
While it appears that Arpaio won’t likely ever face real justice for all of the harm that he’s caused, Larkin and Lacey aren’t going to stop anytime soon. Their Frontera Fund is growing by leaps and bounds, and the two hope that the organization’s work will help to undo at least some of the damage caused by Sheriff Joe.
The fund supports organizations that protect the rights of Latinos and Hispanics, and Larkin and Lacey hope that these efforts will prevent another Sheriff Joe from assuming power ever again. Stay tuned for more updates about the organization’s work–especially in the upcoming midterm elections.