Politics

Flake Was Political Target of Arpaio, Son’s Lawsuit Says

‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ at the center of a lawsuit over animal cruelty charges

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was the political target of charges brought against his son and daughter-in-law, a new lawsuit alleges. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Jeff Flake and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio have been tied together again after a new lawsuit alleged Arpaio improperly pursued heavy charges against one of Flake’s family members to damage the Arizona Republican politically.

Flake’s son Austin filed a malicious-prosecution lawsuit against Arpaio, saying the sheriff brought felony animal cruelty charges against him and his then-wife in order to gain publicity and hurt the senator’s image.

Austin Flake and his wife, 21 and 20 at the time, were charged in the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs in June 2014 at a kennel his in-laws managed. The Flakes were watching the dogs while the in-laws were away, and the dogs died overnight after an air conditioning unit in their sleeping room stopped working.

A judge dismissed the case against the Flakes at the request of the prosecutors. An expert found that the kennel operators did not properly maintain the air conditioning unit. The kennel owners pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges.

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Arpaio cultivated a national image as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” for his controversial stringency on illegal immigration, investigating President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and employing racial-profiling methods.

President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after the sheriff was convicted in July of contempt of court. Flake criticized Trump’s decision at the time.

The lawsuit alleges Arpaio pursued the charges against Austin Flake and his then-wife because the senator opposed the so-called birther movement to discredit Obama’s American citizenship and disagreed with Arpaio on immigration.

Stephen Montoya, an attorney for Austin Flake and his former wife, told The Associated Press the sheriff’s office pursued the charges without evidence the couple intended to hurt the dogs. The ensuing legal imbroglio contributed to the couple’s eventual split, Montoya said.

“It splashed their names across the internet as the murderers of 21 dogs,” Montoya said. “It really ravaged them emotionally.”

The lawsuit does not say how much money Austin Flake and his former wife are seeking, though they previously sought $4 million in a notice of claim.

The prosecutor in the case said Arpaio’s office did not pressure her to prosecute the couple.

In a court deposition, Arpaio did not accept responsibility for bringing the charges against the couple.

“I am going by what my detectives accomplished during their investigation,” Arpaio said during the July 2016 deposition. “They had the nuts and bolts already. I defend my people. I have confidence in them. I don’t have to know everything that’s going on.”

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