PHOENIX — A civil trial beginning Tuesday in Phoenix will focus on former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's reputation for pursuing trumped-up criminal charges against his political adversaries.
One of Sen. Jeff Flake's sons alleges in a malicious-prosecution lawsuit that the six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix filed animal cruelty charges against him and his then-wife to do political damage to the senator and gain publicity for himself.
Austin Flake and his former wife Logan Brown filed the lawsuit over Arpaio's investigation into the 2014 heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs at a kennel operated by the younger Flake's in-laws. The Flakes were watching the dogs while the in-laws were in Florida.
The dogs died when an air conditioner failed in a small room where the animals spent the night.
The case against the Flakes was dismissed at the request of prosecutors, and the owners of the kennel pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges after an expert determined the air conditioner failed because the operators didn't properly maintain it.
The lawsuit alleges that Arpaio tried to link the senator to the dog deaths by conducting surveillance on the senator's home and examining phone records to see if the younger Flake called his father during the time he was watching the dogs.
Lawyers for Austin Flake and his then-wife have said the senator drew Arpaio's ire by disagreeing with the sheriff over immigration and criticizing the movement that questioned the authenticity of then-President Barack Obama's birth certificate. Arpaio was known for carrying out dozens of large-scale immigration crackdowns and conducting a five-year investigation of Obama's birth record.
While Arpaio was still sheriff, Maricopa County paid $8.7 million to settle lawsuits filed by county officials and judges who claimed Arpaio had launched criminal investigations against them on trumped-up allegations in disputes over budget cuts, a plan to build a new court complex and other issues.
The settlements included $1.2 million that was given to a county judge who was charged in a now-discredited bribery case brought by Arpaio.
Arpaio was later accused of investigating a federal judge who presided over a racial profiling case against the sheriff's office — an allegation that Arpaio vigorously denied.
In a 2016 deposition in Austin Flake's lawsuit, Arpaio didn't accept responsibility for bringing the charges against the couple and was unable to cite any evidence to support the allegations. But he still expressed confidence in his investigators.
The federal judge presiding over the trial has determined investigators didn't have probable cause to charge the couple.
Lawyers for the Flakes say the criminal charges contributed to the demise of their marriage, emotionally devastated them and led the senator's son to be suspended from his college for an honor-code violation.
The lawsuit doesn't specify how much money the younger Flake and his ex-wife are seeking. But they previously sought $4 million in a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit.