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‘Toughest sheriff in America’ under fire for warrantless arrests of critics in the middle of the night

Joe Arpaio (Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP)

Self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” is facing a lawsuit for ordering police to break into the homes of two journalists and arresting them in the middle of the night.

The Phoenix New Times paper has long been a critical of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose questionable actions have included organizing detention facilities for illegal immigrants that some have compared to Nazi concentration camps.  Apparently Arpaio got so annoyed with their criticism that he issued a subpoena demanding the newspaper to give up its sources. The subpoena, issued by Arpaio’s office, “demanded that the paper reveal its confidential sources as well as produce reporters’ and editors’ notebooks, memoranda, and documents.” When newspaper co-owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin refused to follow through, though, they received a surprise visit.  Both men were arrested in the middle of the night in their own homes by sheriff’s deputies and accused of a misdemeanor. Law enforcement didn’t even bother to obtain a warrant for the arrest, however, so needless to say the charges were dropped the next day.

The sheriff is now facing a lawsuit for violating constitutionally-protected free speech by ordering the arrest of the two news executives in 2007.

“Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s arrest and jailing of journalists is part of a pattern of trying to silence critics,” Lacey told the Huffington Post. “It is an outrageous abuse of power. But he loves the publicity, even when it backfires. Arpaio relishes law enforcement by headlines. Today he rounds up Mexicans. Tomorrow’s target is anybody’s guess.”

Although charges were dropped, Lacey and Larkin sued the sheriff for violating their freedom of speech. The newspaper co-owners also argued that they had been falsely arrested and targeted for selective prosecution.

On Wednesday, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the newspaper executives could sue the sheriff for their arrests without a warrant.

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