Sheriff Arpaio Accused of Targeting Critics

     PHOENIX (CN) – A son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio, claiming “America’s Toughest Sheriff” filed false animal abuse allegations against him to hurt Flake’s father, an Arpaio critic.
     Austin Flake and his wife Logan sued Arpaio, Maricopa County and its Board of Supervisors in Federal Court on Friday, alleging abuse of process and malicious prosecution.
     On June 21, 2014, the Flakes discovered that 21 dogs staying at Logan’s parents’ Green Acre Cage Free Boarding had all died or were dying. The Flakes were house-sitting for Logan’s parents, Jesse and MaLeisa Hughes, who operated the kennel out of their home.
     In the new lawsuit, Austin says he “told deputies that when he checked on the dogs before going to bed, the room was cool, and the air conditioning was working; but that when he discovered the dogs in the morning, the room was more than 100 degrees, and the air conditioning had failed.”
     At the time, a sheriff’s deputy called it a “horrible, tragic accident at this point.” But on June 23 Arpaio issued a statement, calling himself “aggressive” on animal abuse and promising a “full investigation.”
     The Flakes say in the new complaint that “Arpaio has made statements that he loves this case, and others like it, because the more he publicizes them, the more money that he receives in campaign contributions.”
     They claim Arpaio targeted them “partly for the benefit of harming Sen. Flake, a politician who had disagreed with him on such issues as immigration and the legitimacy of the president’s birth certificate.”
     Flake was critical of the “birther” movement, which Arpaio supported: going so far as to “ investigate ” President Obama’s birth certificate, and blast the Department of Justice for failing to do so.
     (The Department of Justice was investigating Arpaio at the time for civil rights abuses, which led to Arpaio being placed under a federal court order to stop racially profiling and ordering his deputies to arrest suspected immigrants.)
     “Arpaio even went so far as to direct the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to try to connect Sen. Flake to the investigation of plaintiffs,” the Flakes say in the new complaint.
     They claim that Arpaio’s Deputy Chief David Trombi went through their phone records searching for calls from or to Sen. Flake and his wife during the incident, and surveilling the senator and his wife at home when Austin and Logan were in Utah.
     Austin and Logan Flake were indicted in October 2014 on 21 counts of animal cruelty. The Flakes claim the indictment came after Det. Marie Trombi falsely testified to a grand jury that the air conditioning unit at the kennel was working, though an investigator’s report said “that it was ‘very likely’ that the unit failed ‘completely.'”
     Marie Trombi is “closely related” to David Trombi, who is a “close confidant” of Arpaio, the lawsuit says.
     After the indictment, Austin Flake was suspended from Brigham Young University, where he was a student, and the Flakes had their mug shots spread throughout the media.
     The Flakes’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based on misrepresentations made by the Sheriff’s Office during grand jury testimony. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office dismissed the case in December, but refiled charges against the Hugheses.
     “I have said since day one that this was a tragic accident and that the Flakes never intended to harm these animals,” the Flakes’ attorney Dennis Wilenchik said after the charges were dismissed.
     “The sheriff’s own investigator had determined that the air-conditioning accidentally went down in the middle of the night, and the electrical records that they had clearly showed that. But instead of telling this to the grand jury, a detective from the Sheriff’s Office falsely testified that they had determined that the air conditioner was working fine, and that the records did not show the unit shutting down.”
     Arpaio said he was “disappointed” in the dismissal, “without even commenting on the re-indictment of Logan’s parents – making it clear that the Flakes were always his true target,” the complaint states.
     Arpaio denied the allegations Monday: “We conducted a thorough and professional examination into the facts which caused the deaths of these pets. The investigation, when completed, led to the indictments of Todd and Maleisa Hughes as well as Austin and Logan Flake,” Arpaio said in a statement.
     “My office stands by this investigation and the work of our professional and dedicated animal crimes unit detectives. The allegation being made by Flake’s attorney that this investigation was in any way politically motivated is completely false.”
     A dozen families sued the Flakes , the Hugheses and Green Acre Cage Free Boarding in September last year, claiming the Flakes locked their dogs in a 9-by-12 room, “resulting in overheating and/or excessive carbon dioxide buildup and/or insufficient oxygen availability.”
     The Flakes are represented by Dennis and Jack Wilenchik of Wilenchik & Bartness.

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