Cop Says There Was No 'Titties & Beer' Coverup
FLORENCE, Ariz. (CN) - A police lieutenant claims in court that the Phoenix New Times published libelous blogs accusing him of engaging in a cover-up to "scrub" the record of an arrest during a country music fest known as a "Titties and Beer" bacchanalia.
Blake King sued Phoenix New Times, Village Voice Media Holdings, reporter Monica Alonzo, New Times editor Rick Barrs, and the paper's web editor Eric Tsetsi, in Pinal County Court.
The April 2011 arrest of Ronald Keys during the Country Thunder music festival in Florence is already the subject of a lawsuit filed by the arresting officers, Pinal County Sheriff's Officer Andrew Goode and Arizona Department of Public Safety officer Hugh Grant.
In their complaint, also in Pinal County Court, Goode and Grant claimed they were patrolling the concert when they came across three women on a scaffold, encouraging other women to flash their breasts as they walked by below. A sign attached to a platform on the scaffold stated: "Titties and Beer," according to their complaint, filed in April.
When Goode and Grant tried to arrest a woman for flashing her breasts, her husband, Ronald Keys, assaulted Grant by grabbing him from behind and choking him, the officers claim. They arrested Keys but he was released later that night, allegedly with the inappropriate assistance of Pinal County Sheriff's Lt. Blake King.
King claims that in its coverage of the incident and the resulting lawsuit, the New Times, in its "Valley Fever" blog, stated that King had tried to delete the record of Keys' arrest.
According to the blog, King persuaded a judge to release Keys, asked that the arrest record be scrubbed, and arranged for Keys to be chauffeured back to the concert.
King claims in his own lawsuit that the weekly New Times "falsely misconstrued the events of April 9, 2011, and falsely stated and implied that plaintiff took actions to destroy documents and conceal or 'cover up' the ... arrest."
Rather than covering up the arrest, King says, he was trying to save the department from a possible civil rights action. He says that Goode and Grant had "exceeded the scope of their instructions to enforce laws prohibiting underage alcohol consumption, and elected to enforce public decency laws."
King claims that several off-duty Tucson Police officer witnessed the arrest and questioned its legality.
"From witnesses, Lt. King learned that the efforts to arrest the woman suspect and her husband had created a dangerous situation in the campsite, because the plain-clothed Grant pointed his weapon at a witness who was himself a law enforcement officer in Tucson," according to the complaint.
It adds: "Lt. King believed that the husband should not be held in custody any longer than necessary if the arrest was not proper. Indeed, King was concerned that because the arrest was improper, then the husband's civil rights could be further violated if Pinal County continued to detain him on those grounds."
The New Times originally reported that King was "friends" with the Tucson cops who had witnessed the arrest, but corrected the statement after a call from King's lawyer.
"The New Times refused to correct any of the other damaging, maligning and defamatory false statements that Lt. King attempted, 'requested' or sought to 'scrub', 'cover up' or 'get rid of' an arrest record," the complaint states.
The newspaper's attorney Steve Suskin told Courthouse News in an email that the lawsuit is baseless.
"New Times stands by the articles it published about Pinal County Sheriff's Lt. Blake King's conduct in the aftermath of the 'Titties and Beer' assault on 2 Arizona peace officers at the Country Thunder event in 2011," Suskin wrote. "New Times intends to vigorously defend its 1st Amendment right to publish criticism and commentary about the actions undertaken by public officials including the Pinal County Sheriff and Lt. King."
King seeks at least $80,000 in damages for defamation. He is represented by Patricia Ronan of Scottsdale.