One of the most notorious and corrupt law enforcement figures in recent history was pardoned by President Donald Trump on August 15, 2017 – a move that produced widespread outrage and condemnation from a variety of civil liberty groups, international human rights watchers and ordinary citizens alike.
Before the pardon, former Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio would almost certainly have gone to jail after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court, a felony.
The conviction of Arpaio had been a long time coming in the eyes of many. He had presided over a virtual reign of terror, using and abusing his powers as the top lawman of Maricopa County.
The focus of Sheriff Arpaio’s gestapo-like police tactics were directed against undocumented immigrants, migrant workers and people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity in Arizona. Arpaio established brutal prison camps for immigrants he ordered rounded up and arrested – conditions in these mass jails were so deplorable, world human rights agencies, such as Amnesty International, compared them to the POW camps set up by Nazi Germany.
A number of deaths resulted from the dire conditions that detainees were forced to live under – even pregnant women were chained to the beds while they gave birth.
Sheriff Arpaio’s dictatorial management style also found him routinely violating the Constitutional rights of American citizens, including two Arizona news men, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey.
Larkin and Lacey headed an alternative newspaper, the Phoenix New Times, which had long been reporting and writing truthful stories about the many questionable police actions of Sheriff Arpaio. That included his notorious Tent City prison and his unlawful harassment of just about anyone who “looked” like they might be Latino of Mexican heritage.
In October of 2007, Sheriff Arpaio sent plainclothes deputies to the homes of both Larkin and Lacey. The men arrived in unmarked vehicles with Mexican license plates. Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey were arrested, hauled from their homes in the dark of night and thrown in jail. The arrest order was triggered by a recent story in the Phoenix New Times about a grand jury investigation into Arpaio’s police department. Read more: Jim Larkin | LinkedIn and Michael Lacey | Twitter
A public outcry erupted almost immediately. Larkin and Lacey were released in about 24 hours. But the unlawful arrests were destined to cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County big time, thanks to the reckless actions of Sheriff Arpaio.
A judge determined that the arrests violated the Constitutional right of free speech and freedom of the press. Larkin and Lacey sued and were awarded $3.7 million in damages from Maricopa County.
Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey could have used the money to take fabulous vacations, buy luxury vehicles or build new homes for themselves – but instead they dedicated the funds to creating a philanthropic organization with the goal of providing aid, support and comfort to the very groups of people that Sheriff Arpaio once terrorized.
Today, the Larkin and Lacey Frontera Fund has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of organizations that support Mexican and other immigrants struggling to build new lives in the United States.