Fall of America’s Self-Proclaimed Toughest Sheriff

Sheriff Joe Arpaio was America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff. From his proclamation, he described how he viewed his legal mandate; from an authoritarian and punitive attitude. Indeed, as exposed by two journalists from Arizona, Lacey and Larkin, Maricopa County had become oblivious that the role of law enforcement is to empower and to protect, not to intimidate and to oppress. The two columnists from the Phoenix New Times had investigated claims of racial profiling, mistreatment and financial mismanagement of county funds by the sheriff. After gathering enough evidence to conclusively put the sheriff at fault, Lacey and Larkin put the matter on the papers for the public court to make its judgment.

Lacey and Larkin were later served with grand jury subpoenas at the whimsical demands of Joe Arpaio. The sheriff demanded that the two journalists provide his office with,

  • Personal details of the Phoenix New Times’ editors
  • Personal details of the Phoenix New Times’ writers
  • Personal details of the Phoenix New Times’ readers including their personal IP addresses and browsing logs.

Citing the unconstitutionality in the demands put forward in the subpoenas, Lacey and Larkin chose not to comply. They went on to print the subpoenas in the newspapers for the people to see for themselves how the sheriff’s office flagrantly defied and contravened the First Amendment of the Constitution. That choice was to cause a vehement rage in the sheriff and attracted grievous consequences for them.

Joe Arpaio ordered his two most abrasive deputies to raid Lacey and Larkin’s home and to drag them to the county jails. The deputies went to make the arrest while armed and did not use official police vehicles. Instead, they used private cars that had tinted windows and Mexican registration plates. The public would not have any of that. Tired of the sheriff’s high-handed tactics, they set out in the streets to protest the wrongful arrest. The pressure weighed in on the county and the sheriff was ordered to release the two. Mysteriously, Mr. Arpaio had decided to keep Lacey and Larkin in different jails and they had not met during the ordeal.

The two human rights activists decided to jointly sue the county for wrongful arrest and suffering. They wanted to put an end to the Arpaio rule of tyranny. They won the case after several appeals that got them to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that the prosecutor had not observed due process in drafting the subpoenas served to Lacey and Larkin. Furthermore, the judge described Mr. Arpaio actions leading to the lawsuit as ‘abusive to the First Amendment of the Constitution. He ruled that the arrest made on the two plaintiffs was without probable cause and ordered Maricopa County to pay 3.7 million dollars to the journalists as compensation for damages incurred.