PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona jurors who will decide a malicious-prosecution trial against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio were told that one of Sen. Jeff Flake’s sons suffered from depression as a result of a now-dismissed animal cruelty case that the lawman brought against him.
The jury was told on the opening day of the civil trial that Austin Flake and his ex-wife Logan Brown still suffer emotional distress from the charges they faced when 21 dogs at a kennel operated by the younger Flake’s in-laws died from heat exhaustion. The Flakes were watching the dogs while the in-laws were in Florida.
The lawsuit filed by the couple alleges Arpaio pursued charges against them to do political damage to the Republican senator from Arizona and gain publicity for himself. While jurors were told about Arpaio’s efforts to publicize the case, the elder Flake was barely mentioned during opening Tuesday’s opening statements.
Stephen Montoya, an attorney representing the younger Flake and his ex-wife, said there was no evidence showing his clients intended to hurt the dogs.
“It wasn’t Austin’s fault. It wasn’t Logan’s fault,” Montoya said, adding that the criminal case contributed to the demise of the couple’s marriage.
Jeffrey Leonard, an attorney representing Maricopa County and the former sheriff, said the charges against the couple were the result of a competent investigation.
“There were no predetermined results,” Leonard said. “Conclusions were drawn in good faith by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.”
Leonard also told jurors that the prosecutor who filed the charges was not pressured by Arpaio’s office to prosecute the couple.
Arpaio, who lost his re-election bid last year after serving as sheriff of greater Phoenix for 24 years, is expected to testify Tuesday.
The case against the Flakes was dismissed at the request of prosecutors, and the owners of the kennel 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 federal judge presiding over the trial has determined previously that investigators didn’t have probable cause to charge the couple.
The lawsuit alleges that Arpaio tried to link the senator to the dog deaths by conducting surveillance on the senator’s home and examining phone records to see if the younger Flake called his father when the younger Flake was watching the dogs.
Lawyers for Austin Flake and his then-wife have said previously that 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 was known for carrying out dozens of large-scale immigration crackdowns and conducting a five-year investigation of Obama’s birth record.
There was no mention during opening statements of any personal or political tension between the senator and Arpaio.
The allegations from the younger Flake came after Maricopa County paid $8.7 million to settle lawsuits from officials and judges who claimed Arpaio had launched criminal investigations against them on trumped-up allegations in disputes over budget cuts, a plan to build a new court complex and other issues.
The settlements included $1.2 million that was given to a judge who was charged in a now-discredited bribery case brought by Arpaio.
It isn’t the first time Arpaio has 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 a 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.
The lawsuit by Austin Flake and his ex-wife doesn’t specify how much money they are seeking. But they previously sought $4 million in a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit.
By JACQUES BILLEAUD
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