On Oct. 18, 2007, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested by Maricopa County’s Selective Enforcement Unit. The two men were forcibly taken from their homes in Phoenix, Ariz., and driven away in unmarked vehicles. The order to arrest the two men was given by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The men had written an article against him in Phoenix New Times that exposed his unconstitutional actions against the company. The self-titled “America’s Toughest Sheriff” was furious.
Phoenix New Times had been a long-time critic of Arpaio. The newspaper accused him of inspiring anti-Mexican sentiments, in addition to abuse of power in his position as Maricopa County Sheriff. According to the newspaper, Arpaio was responsible for financial misconduct and political posturing, providing inadequate conditions in his jails, gross mistreatment of inmates, racial profiling and unfair treatment of Latinos. In retaliation, Arpaio had grand jury subpoenas issued to uncover personal details about the newspaper’s editorial staff and readers.
Instead of submitting, Lacey and Larkin decided that they would write to expose how it was an assault on the Constitution for Arpaio to obtain the subpoenas. The sheriff had the two men arrested as a response, but the faulty charges were dropped within 24 hours and they were released. A prolonged court battle was launched as a response to this outrage, centering on First Amendment rights and the abuse of power.
The Ninth Circuit of Appeals decided, “It is hard to conceive of a more direct assault on the First Amendment than public officials ordering the immediate arrests of their critics. And, in this case, there was nothing subtle about their efforts to stifle the New Times.” The subpoenas against Lacey and Larkin were invalid since they were obtained illegally, and the court confirmed that the two writers had been detained with no probable cause.
Lacey and Larkin were paid a $3.7 million settlement by Maricopa County in 2013. The money went directly into the creation of Frontera Fund, an organization that benefits Arizona’s ostracized Hispanic community. Lacey and Larkin worked to distribute funds to non-profit groups that were dedicated to championing Hispanic rights.