Maricopa County “Criminal Justice”: The Irony Never Stops

On December 22 Maricopa County, Arizona Attorney Bill Montgomery dropped criminal charges stemming from an animal abuse case last summer. In that incident, Green Acre kennel allegedly locked twenty dogs in a sweltering room — in the Arizona summer — leaving them to die of heat prostration and dehydration.

Why, you might wonder, would Montgomery drop charges in such a seemingly reprehensible case of cruelty — especially after the defendants were indicted by a grand jury? Well, it might or might not have something to do with the fact that one of the defendants was Austin Flake — son of GOP Senator Jeff Flake and son-in-law of the owners, who with his wife was watching the kennel while the owners were on vacation.

But it turns out Montgomery may have had a legitimate reason for dropping the charges. The grand jury wasn’t privy to a vital piece of exculpatory evidence: The kennel air conditioning unit’s coil froze up overnight, and the defendants may well have been unaware it was malfunctioning.

This doesn’t entirely remove the stench of political favoritism, clearly. While the new evidence puts the case in a new light, it’s doubtful things would have gone as well for anyone but a senator’s son. As J.D. Tuccille writes at Reason (“Dropped Animal Cruelty Case Shows How Authorities Manipulate Grand Juries,”  December 26), “the missing facts … came to light because the defendants (senator’s son, remember) had good, diligent legal representation that was able to bypass the legal process and go to the press and the public. That’s the sort of recourse not available to every defendant facing a grand jury and a prosecutor looking for an easy kill.” It’s also unlikely a prosecutor would have been as scrupulous about dropping charges for a mere commoner, even had such facts come to light.

But in this case the main example of political bias comes from a different direction entirely: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a political enemy of Jeff Flake, who suppressed the exculpatory evidence. The Sheriff’s Department’s own expert said it was “‘very likely’ that the air conditioner failed because an evaporative coil froze during the night,” and the department also withheld utility records showing a drop in power usage consistent with the air conditioning unit going out.

That’s right: Joe Arpaio went gunning for the son of a political rival, for inhumanely housing dogs in life-threatening heat.

That’s “Sheriff Joe,” beloved of pathologically authoritarian conservatives, famous for housing prisoners in tents that reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit — the roasting temperature of meat.

Sheriff Joe, who likes to roast county inmates alive in potentially lethal heat and feed them white bread and water, expressed optimism that the charges would be submitted to a new grand jury and result in prosecution.

Folks, just add music and you couldn’t have a better farce of the state’s so-called “criminal justice” system. A dirtbag sheriff suppressing evidence that might have prevented a grand jury from indicting the son of his political enemy, a defendant uncovering the suppressed evidence and avoiding a railroad job only because he belongs to a privileged political class and has the economic means to afford a competent defense, and the same dirtbag sheriff expressing outrage over dogs suffering the same treatment he gives his own human jail inmates — most of them never tried for any crime — on a daily basis.

If there’s any objective, consistent principle at work here, it’s simply that the “criminal justice” you get from the state depends entirely on what those with wealth and power want you to have.

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