Joe Arpaio came to be known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but history will show that this Maricopa County lawman was an out-of-control demagogue who ran roughshod over the U.S. Constitution and routinely violated the basic human rights of people he was sworn to protect.
Sheriff Arpaio even once attempted to imprison two Arizona journalists because he didn’t like the stories they were publishing about his Gestapo-like police tactics. Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey – two men who headed the Phoenix New Times – were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and tossed in jail. Read more: Jim Larkin | Crunchbase and Jim Larkin | Angel.co
It was on October 18, 2007, that unmarked vehicles with Mexican license plates pulled up to the homes of Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey in the dark of night. Out of the SUVs poured groups of plainclothes police officers. They barged into the homes of both Larkin and Lacey and arrested them.
The charge? Days earlier the Phoenix new Times had published a column which discussed the details of a grand jury investigation that Sheriff Arpaio had launched against Larkin, Lacey and their publication.
Writing news stories about public court documents is perfectly legal and protected by one of the most basic rights covered under the Constitution of the United States – the 1st Amendment right of free speech and freedom of the press.
The public outcry was immediate. Even Sheriff Arpaio’s hard-right, conservative supports came out against the arrest of two journalists who were just doing their jobs. Larkin and Lacey were released from jail within 24 hours – but then they sued.
After much litigation, a U.S. Appeals Court judge awarded Larkin and Lacey $3.75 million in damages. Rather than just keep the money, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey dedicated their court-won windfall to create a philanthropic fund called the Larkin and Lacey Frontera Fund.
The organization focuses on helping the very people Sheriff Arapio enjoyed persecuting – immigrant peoples and those of Mexican, Latino or Hispanic heritage. Read more: Michael Lacey | Facebook and Michael Lacey | Twitter
Sheriff Arpaio would eventually be charged and convicted of criminal contempt of court for his ongoing illegal and unconstitutional persecution of Latino and Hispanic groups.
It seemed likely that Arpaio would do prison time – but then President Donald Trump issued him a full pardon – an act widely criticized and despicable by millions of American people.
Today, the former Sheriff is running for U.S. Senate in Arizona.
Even so, the actions of Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey delivered a serious blow to the life and legacy of Mr. Arpaio. It proved that the American system of an open and free press along with social activism can take on powerful, but corrupt public officials – and win.
Larkin and Lacey have since sold their interest in the alternative newspaper chain they established over some 40 years of producing cutting-edge journalism that consistently spoke truth to power.
They leave behind a remarkable legacy that shows what two determined new men can accomplish using the fundamental power of the free press combined with a laser-focus dedication to telling the stories of people that are powerless in American society.