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The Illegal Arrests of Joe Arpaio

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a national figure though so far he has only one county office, that of sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. One big facet of his national fame stems from the illegal arrest of two journalists in October of 2007.

Arpaio had already been violating the law before the night of the 18th of October that year. He had ordered Maricopa County Attorneys to secure Grand Jury warrants on reporters and editors who had previously written stories about his sheriffs office. These stories alleged many illegal activities from the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office, ranging from racial profiling to horrible treatment of prisoners, up to and including unexplained deaths in Arpaio’s jails.

When the County issued the subpoenas to these reporters and editors two reporters- Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin of the Phoenix New Time – decided that instead of comply to the baseless warrant and turn over all their electronic communications they would write and publish a story about it, which they did. It was for this reason that Arpaio, who gave himself the nickname ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff”, had the two arrested.

Lacey told other inmates the reason he was in prison was for “writing.” The reporters were taken to different prisons in cars with Mexican license plates. When the country heard the story of how and why the two were arrested there was a national uproar against Arpaio for such a blatant violation of the 1st Amendment. After this outcry the two were released from jail and had all charges against them dropped in under 24 hours.

Lacey and Larkin were not done with the sheriff. They took the County to court for wrongful arrest and received $3.7 million in damages, with the 9th Circuit judge pointing out that since the prosecutors of Maricopa had failed to follow proper procedure the arrest warrants were never valid to begin with.

The reporters have dedicated the entire settlement amount to starting the Frontera Fund, a fund designed to assist low-income Hispanics in Arizona. Larkin, a native of Arizona, said he “couldn’t think of anyone more deserving” to receive financial assistance than the Hispanic immigrants and natives who had been unfairly targeted by Arpaio’s anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic policies.

In 2016, after many politicians has copied Arpaio’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric, the people of Maricopa County voted him out of the sheriffs office. Arpaio is currently running for the U.S. Senate.