PHOENIX — An Arizona jury has refused to award damages against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a civil trial for bringing a since-dismissed criminal case against one of Sen. Jeff Flake’s sons in the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs.
Jurors deliberated nearly an hour before ruling late Thursday against Austin Flake and his then-wife Logan Brown in their malicious-prosecution lawsuit stemming from Arpaio’s investigation into the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs at a kennel operated by Flake’s in-laws.
Flake and Brown, who were in college at the time, were caring for the dogs while the in-laws were out of town.
Stephen Montoya, the couple’s attorney, said his clients disagree with the verdict said that they were grateful for “the opportunity to force former Sheriff Arpaio and his subordinates at Maricopa County to account for their indisputably reckless conduct.”
“The struggle to hold government officials accountable has always required a steep, perilous climb,” Montoya said in a statement.
Montoya said the federal judge in the case said during the trial he wouldn’t enter a final judgment until lawyers for Arpaio and the county explain a failure to turn over documents in the case. “We will assess our future options in this fight when the county complies with the court’s order,” Montoya said.
Jeffrey Leonard, an attorney representing Arpaio and the county, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The criminal case against the Flakes was dismissed at the request of prosecutors — and the kennel owners later pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges — after an expert determined the facility’s air conditioner failed because the operators didn’t properly maintain it. The judge presiding over the civil trial had told jurors that authorities didn’t have probable cause to charge the Flakes.
The couple alleged in their lawsuit that Arpaio brought the case against them to garner publicity for himself and to do political damage to Flake’s father.
Their lawyers said the senator drew Arpaio’s ire by disagreeing with the sheriff over immigration and criticizing the movement that questioned the authenticity of then-President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Arpaio, also a Republican, was known for carrying out dozens of large-scale immigration crackdowns and conducting a five-year investigation of Obama’s birth record.
The couple contended the charges caused them emotional distress, contributed to the demise of their marriage and led the senator’s son to being suspended from college for an honor-code violation.
During his testimony, Arpaio had said he was confident in his officers’ work on the case, but was unable to cite any evidence to back up the charges against Flake and Brown.
The media-savvy lawman was grilled about his motivations in publicizing the investigation, saying he spoke out about the dog deaths because it was a serious matter and reporters were asking about the case. He downplayed the number of news conferences he called to discuss the case.
The prosecutor who handled the criminal case maintained that she wasn’t pressured by Arpaio’s office to file charges. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office wasn’t a party to the lawsuit.
The case against Austin Flake wasn’t the first time Arpaio had been accused of trumping up charges in an animal cruelty case.
He launched an investigation against a police officer from the Phoenix suburb of Chandler over the 2007 death of a police dog that was left in a hot vehicle for 12 hours in blistering summer heat.
The officer was charged with animal abuse but eventually acquitted. He filed a lawsuit alleging Arpaio brought the criminal case so the sheriff could exploit the publicity.
Taxpayers paid $775,000 to the officer to settle the case.