Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, cofounders of Front Page Confidential, speak out in response to Donald Trump’s pardon of America’s worst sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Ten years ago, under cover of darkness, agents from the Maricopa County Selective Enforcement Unit came knocking at the Phoenix, Arizona, homes of Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.
On orders from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, they hauled away both men in handcuffs for the crime of disclosing details about a grand-jury investigation.
At the time, Lacey was executive editor of the Village Voice Media newspaper chain, Larkin the company’s CEO. Earlier that day they had published a story about the grand-jury probe in one of the company’s publications, their hometown Phoenix New Times.
Moreover, it was all part of a setup Arpaio had rigged because he was fed up with New Times‘s constant coverage and exposure of his department’s outrageous misdeeds, dating back to his election to office in 1992.
This week, in a story by Front Page Confidential‘s own Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times revisits the twists and turns of Lacey and Larkin’s decades-long joust with the Maricopa County sheriff.
It’s a pungent recap of Arpaio’s history of law-enforcement douchebaggery — from his infamous Tent City to his orders to shackle expectant mothers to their beds during childbirth to the untold numbers of detainees who died in his jail cells and the various extralegal campaigns he had his deputies carry out in order to thwart his political foes.
Looming largest among the sheriff’s villainy: his vendetta against the two newspapermen, and his blatant contempt for the rights of the Latinos who lived and worked in his jurisdiction. The latter gave rise to a landmark federal civil-rights lawsuit, Melendres v. Arpaio, which ultimately led to his downfall.
The arrests of two journalists for a story they had published was a rare and egregious violation of the First Amendment — a fact that generated headlines at news outlets nationwide. Within 24 hours, Maricopa’s county attorney hastily convened a press conference to announce he’d nixed the busts and closed the case.
That chapter in Lacey and Larkin’s journalism career ended five years later, when Maricopa County paid the two men a $3.75 million settlement to set right the wrongful arrests. The newsmen used the money to endow a new nonprofit, the Frontera Fund, which works to uphold the rights of migrants and immigrants. (And this past summer they started a new venture: the website you’re reading right now.)
A lot more time passed, however, before Arpaio reaped his whirlwind.
Last November voters declined to anoint him for a seventh term as sheriff. And in July of this year, a judge nicked him for criminal contempt of court stemming from the Melendres suit.
And in late August, President Donald Trump, a longtime Arpaio compadre, pardoned the former sheriff, sparing him a possible prison term.
One might expect that Lacey and Larkin would have a thing or two to say about their decades-long clash with Sheriff Joe. And indeed they do.
In retrospect, one can’t help wondering whether Arpaio, always a wily reader of political wind shifts, sensed that 2016 was the end of the road and executed an exit strategy. He endorsed Trump’s presidential candidacy in January of that year, a time when most were mocking the notion that the boorish billionaire would secure the GOP nomination.
Though he fell far short in his bid for a seventh term, stumping for Trump wound up paying off.
“He was a terrible sheriff, a terrible jailer,” Larkin said of Arpaio. “But he was a great fucking politician, and I actually think he was a precursor to Trump. He may have ridden Trump’s coattails to a pardon, but in winning the election, Trump followed him. It’s hard to admit that, because I don’t respect Arpaio for anything other than his political acumen.”
Lacey believes Trump granted the pardon mainly to pander to his base: nationalists who view Arpaio — a man who called Mexicans “dirty” in an interview with GQ magazine and who told nativist commentator Lou Dobbs that he considers it an “honor” when his enemies refer to him as a Ku Klux Klan member — as a hero.
“At the end of the day, that sort of racist, brutal, cracker philosophy appealed to enough voters that a joker like Trump thinks there’s some political traction to be had by pardoning the guy,” Lacey said.
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