A lawsuit is targeting former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing the ex-lawman of maliciously pressing charges against relatives of a political opponent.
During his decades-long tenure as an Arizona sheriff, Arpaio frequently found himself at the center of media attention. Outspoken and a proponent of controversial practices, he was driven out of office last year following a racial profiling scandal.
In the aftermath, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court, having sidelined a judge’s order to stop pulling over Latinos for arbitrary immigration checks.
Although the sentence could have carried penalties ranging from a fine to incarceration, Arpaio was quickly provided relief from none other than the commander-in-chief.
Trump pardoned the sheriff earlier in the year, shortly before Arpaio was due to be sentenced.
Now, the son of Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is seeking justice of his own.
Despite being members of the same political party, Flake and Arpaio frequently found themselves clashing over immigration policy. The senator disapproved of the sheriff’s hardline stance on illegal immigration, as well as the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department means of enforcement.
Flake’s son, Austin, says the notorious sheriff hounded him and his then-wife on trumped-up animal cruelty charges in a bid to damage his father’s career.
While managing an Arizona kennel in 2014, the younger Flake dealt with a maintenance failure. The air-conditioning in the facility went out, leading 21 dogs to die from heat exhaustion.
Arpaio took the investigation unusually seriously – he ordered deputies to watch Sen. Flake’s house, and examined Austin’s phone records to find whether the senator had any connection to the kennel tragedy.
Stephen Montoya, attorney for Austin Flake and his ex-wife, said, “It splashed their names across the Internet as the murderers of 21 dogs. It really ravaged them emotionally.”
Eventually, the owners of the kennel pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges. Investigators determined they were at fault for not properly maintaining the air conditioning circuits.
But prosecutors asked to dismiss the case against the Flakes.
Even then, Arpaio stood by his decision to harass the family.
Speaking in a deposition, he said he wasn’t personally responsible for the unusual depth of surveillance, or its targeting of Austin and Jeff Flake.
“I am going by what my detectives accomplished during their investigation,” claimed Arpaio in court.
A U.S. District Court judge dismissed a defamation suit brought by the couple, while admitting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have probable cause to suggest charging the couple.
“A factfinder could thus reasonably find that the prosecutors initially charged the couple based on pressure from Arpaio,” wrote Judge Neil Wake.