On the evening of October 18, 2007, armed police acting under orders from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious “Selective Enforcement Unit” hunted down and arrested Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, two Village Voice Media executives.
It turned out to be a day that will live in infamy.
Deputies forcibly removed the pair from their respective homes in the Phoenix area and jammed them into dark, unmarked SUVs with tinted windows and Mexican license plates. Under the watchful eye of “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio, Lacey and Larkin were later booked into two separate jails.
The grim details were brought to light by the Phoenix New Times, a local newspaper that had a history of exposing Arpaio’s misdeeds on numerous occasions previously. The paper had run stories on Arpaio’s anti-Mexican fear-mongering, his retaliatory abuses of power against law enforcement critics, financial irregularities and egregious mismanagement in the sheriff’s office, and much more.
It’s no surprise, then, that Arpaio (at least ostensibly) targeted Lacey and Larkin after they had written a cover story in the paper critical of Arpaio. The article detailed the steps taken by Arpaio and his allies to issue grand jury subpoenas, seeking details about the newspaper’s staff members and readers.
When Lacey and Larkin exposed the plot to suppress the media through grand jury subpoenas, they ended up in jail. It took a monumental outcry across the state and national media attention to free the two men, who were back home within 24 hours with all charges dropped.
Years later after much legal wrangling, a court found that grand jury subpoenas issued for Lacey and Larkin were invalid due to the prosecution side-stepping proper legal procedures. The court also found that the pair were arrested and detained without probable cause.
This paved the way for a $3.7 million settlement paid by Maricopa County in 2013 to Lacey and Larkin. The pair earmarked the settlement money to create the Frontera Fund, an organization which seeks to benefit the Hispanic community which has suffered most from racial tensions and civil rights abuses in Arizona.
After the settlement, Larkin said, “I cannot think of a more deserving group than those Mexican immigrants who brave unimaginable peril in the desert to travel to Arizona for work and economic opportunity.”
As for Lacey, his post-settlement sentiments were similar: “Sheriff Joe Arpaio demonized and detained Mexican migrants as well as anyone with brown skin” he observed. “The people of Arizona are better than this…we are all migrants.”