Civil Liberties

Dropped Animal Cruelty Case Shows How Authorities Manipulate Grand Juries


Corrêa Carvalho

Last summer. the deaths of 20 dogs at the Green Acre kennel in Gilbert, Arizona became a national cause when it appeared the animals were intentionally confined to a room and left to die in the sweltering summer heat. The case took on political implications when the son and daughter-in-law of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) were among four defendants indicted on animal cruelty charges by the grand jury that considered the case. But now that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery quietly dropped the case during Christmas week, saying the facts don't seem to fit the theory of the case, Green Acre may become better known as an example of how authorities manipulate grand juries than as a case of mistreatment of animals.

In a statement dated December 22, Montgomery said:

After thoroughly reviewing the records and fairly considering the points raised in recent Defense motions, the theory of the case as initially presented to the Grand Jury did not take into account the possibility that there were issues with an air conditioning unit. This could impact a Grand Jury's charging decision and how we might present a case to a trial jury.

Dozens of felony and misdemeanor charges were dropped and "The State will confer with investigators and experts to ensure any open questions about the events that occurred at the Green Acre facility are fully answered before making a decision on re-charging allegations of animal cruelty."

More bluntly, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts says "the Maricopa County sheriff's detective mislead the grand jury into believing that the 21 dogs were intentially left to die in a sweat box."

Yes, that's the sheriff's office under infamous Joe Arpaio, the most headline-chasing lawman in these here United States.

Specifically, the sheriff's department didn't tell the grand jury that its own HVAC expert said it's "very likely" that the air conditioner failed because an evaporative coil froze during the night. The department also didn't reveal that utility records showed a drop off in power usage in the middle of the night consistent with an air conditioning unit giving up the ghost. Arizona's summer climate isn't forgiving. When the AC dies, the temperatures soar—potentially into lethal territory.

"Accidents happen. Rigged investigations shouldn't," the Arizona Republic's editorial board writes.

The missing facts of the case—those never presented to the grand jury—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.

"[I]t's easy to see how different suspects with a less-than-competent lawyer could get railroaded by eager prosecutors and an ill-informed grand jury," notes Ray Stern of the Phoenix New Times.

Then again, maybe that political connection painted a target on the younger Flake's back. Arpaio isn't known for his tolerance of political rivals.

Either way, it's clear that a grand jury can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of unscrupulous officials.