Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be a favorite in Trumpland, but he’s no hero.
Arpaio is facing a new federal lawsuit, set to go to trial in December, alleging that he used his office to target the son of a political opponent in 2014, by attempting to connect his name to animal cruelty charges.
Specifically, Arpaio seems to have targeted the son of retiring Senator Jeff Flake.
The Associated Press reports:
Austin Flake and his wife were charged in the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs in June 2014 at a kennel operated by his in-laws. The Flakes were watching the dogs when the in-laws were out of town.
The dogs died when an air conditioning unit failed in a small room where the animals spent the night.
The case against the Flakes was dismissed at the request of prosecutors, and the owners of the kennel pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges after an expert determined the air conditioner failed because the operators didn’t properly maintain it.
Heartbreaking, but pretty cut and dried, and not their fault, right?
Well, in a normal world, yes. In Arpaio’s world, however, maybe not. The lawsuit, set to begin on December 5, alleges that Arpaio was so intent on linking the deaths to the Flake name that he set up surveillance on Senator Flake’s home. He also tasked his investigators with examining Austin Flake’s phone records, searching for any communications between Austin Flake and his father during the time the younger Flake and his wife were tending to the kennel.
Lawyers for Austin Flake and his then-wife have said the senator disagreed with Arpaio over immigration and was critical of the movement questioning the authenticity of then-President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
In a deposition, Arpaio didn’t accept responsibility for bringing the charges against the couple and was unable to cite any evidence to support the allegations. But he still expressed confidence in his investigators.
“I am going by what my detectives accomplished during their investigation,” Arpaio said during the July 2016 deposition. “They had the nuts and bolts already. I defend my people. I have confidence in them. I don’t have to know everything that’s going on.”
You were the sheriff. It was kind of your job to know what those under you were doing.
Stephen Montoya, the attorney representing Austin Flake and his now former wife, Logan Brown, claims that without evidence to show any intent to harm the animals temporarily under their care, Arpaio’s office charged them with the horrible crimes that caused enough stress to eventually contribute to the end their marriage.
“It splashed their names across the internet as the murderers of 21 dogs. It really ravaged them emotionally,” Montoya said, noting that Austin Flake was 21 and his wife was 20 at the time.
A ruling in August by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed a defamation allegation from the lawsuit but determined investigators didn’t have probable cause to charge the couple.
“A factfinder could thus reasonably find that the prosecutors initially charged the Flakes based on pressure from Arpaio,” Wake wrote.
The prosecutor who brought the original charges has claimed that there was no pressure from Arpaio, and that she and her supervisors made the decision on their own.
No amount of compensation is listed with the lawsuit, but the couple previously listed $4 million in a notice of claim (which comes before the lawsuit).
This wouldn’t be the first time Arpaio has stepped outside of his authority or has used his office in ways unbecoming an officer of the law.
It is, however, a new low.