On October 18, 2007, under the cover of darkness, armed deputies of Maricopa County, Arizona’s sheriff’s department arrested freedom fighting journalists Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin on trumped-up charges of disclosing information related to a grand-jury investigation. The co-founders and executives for Village Voice Media were in truth being targeted by corrupt Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in retaliation for their constant criticism of his department through their various media outlets linked to Village Voice Media. The journalists were removed from their Phoenix-area homes, placed into unmarked SUV’s with Mexican plates and booked into separate jail facilities.
The Phoenix New Times is a newspaper put out by Village Voice Media and it had repeatedly exposed the misdeeds of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Joe Arpaio. The publication had reported about Arpaio’s role in promoting anti-Mexican fear-mongering across Arizona. Many mainstream media outlets had played down Arpaio’s issues, chalking him up to being just another quirky and off the wall public figure but the Phoenix New Times went out of its way to get to the truth and reported on the mistreatment of inmates in Arpaio’s Tent City as well as the misappropriation of funds by Arpaio’s department. Phoenix New Times pulled no punches in exposing Arpaio’s blatant racial profiling and unconstitutional detainments. Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were, in truth, arrested because they had published a story covering Arpaio and his allies in the county’s attorney’s office issuing grand-jury subpoenas asking for details regarding the journalists behind the newspaper as well as its editors and readers. The personal browsing histories of Phoenix New Times readers were also subject to exposure.
The outcry from the public over these wrongful arrests was massive and the two were released from jail in less than 24 hours time with all charges being dropped. This illegal detention of Lacey and Larkin resulted in a drawn-out court battle revolving around the First Amendment and Arpaio’s abuse of power. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asserted that Arpaio’s actions were a direct attack on the First Amendment because he was simply trying to silence critics. The court also noted that the grand-jury subpoenas that had been served on Larkin and Lacey were not valid as the prosecutor had not followed proper legal procedures. In other words, Larkin and Lacey were arrested without probable cause.
The end result of this illegal arrest was that Lacey and Larkin were awarded a settlement of $3.7 million as compensation for the actions of the sheriff’s department. These funds were then used by the journalists to get up the Frontera Fund in order to help migrants and immigrants in their fight for their civil and human rights.