Joe Arpaio

Joe Arpaio Sues for $147 Million Over New York Times Op-Ed Slamming His Cruelty

The op-ed's claims are harsh, but they're also true.

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Laura Segall/REUTERS/Newscom

"America's toughest sheriff," also known as "America's worst lawman," is seeking $147.5 million in damages over a New York Times op-ed that pointed out some of his worst abuses of power.

First, a bit of background. Joe Arpaio served as sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993–2017. After losing his re-election bid in November 2016, he set his sights on the U.S. Senate. As it turns out, the Donald Trump-loving, illegal immigration-hating former lawman wasn't too popular, even among Arizona conservatives. He finished a distant third in the GOP primary with about 19 percent of the vote.

Following his loss, Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle penned an August 29 op-ed titled: "Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn't Going to Congress." Cottle slammed him for "terrorizing immigrants" and characterized his "24-year reign of terror" as "medieval in its brutality." Cottle's points are valid. Reason, in fact, has been reporting for years on the Arpaio regime's horrific abuses.

Unsurprisingly, Arpaio wasn't thrilled with the op-ed. On Tuesday, a lawyer for the ex-sheriff filed a libel lawsuit against Cottle and the Times alleging "several false, defamatory factual assertions." The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims those "assertions are carefully and maliciously calculated to damage and injure Plaintiff Arpaio both in the law enforcement community… as well as with Republican establishment and donors."

The lawsuit takes particular issue with several passages from Cottle's op-ed. Cottle called him "a true American villain" and said his "methods often crossed the line into the not-so legal." He's "a disgrace to law enforcement" and "a sadist masquerading as a public servant," she wrote. According to the lawsuit, those statements "portray Plaintiff Arpaio in a false light."

Cottle backed up those criticisms with plenty of previously reported facts about Arpaio's tenure. Nothing she said was a wild or even new accusation, though the lawsuit says they're "defamatory," since they "falsely accused" the former sheriff "of committing a serious crime." Here's the passage in question:

His 24-year reign of terror was medieval in its brutality. In addition to conducting racial profiling on a mass scale and terrorizing immigrant neighborhoods with gratuitous raids and traffic stops and detentions, he oversaw a jail where mistreatment of inmates was the stuff of legend. Abuses ranged from the humiliating to the lethal. He brought back chain gangs. He forced prisoners to wear pink underwear. He set up an outdoor "tent city," which he once referred to as a "concentration camp," to hold the overflow of prisoners. Inmates were beaten, fed rancid food, denied medical care (this included pregnant women) and, in at least one case, left battered on the floor to die.

The number of inmates who hanged themselves in his facilities was far higher than in jails elsewhere in the country. More disturbing still, nearly half of all inmate deaths on his watch were never explained.

At the same time, Mr. Arpaio's department could not be bothered to uphold the laws in which it had little interest. From 2005 through 2007, the sheriff and his deputies failed to properly investigate, or in some cases to investigate at all, more than 400 sex-crime cases, including those involving the rape of young children.

The language is harsh, but that doesn't make it any less true. Last year, for instance, a federal judge found Arpaio to be in criminal contempt of court for ignoring a 2011 order telling him, on constitutional grounds, to stop racially profiling and detaining Latino residents. As Reason's C.J. Ciaramella explained at the time, Arpaio was only let off the hook because President Donald Trump decided to pardon him.

Ciaramella further pointed out how prisoners were mistreated in Maricopa County jails, including at the infamous "tent city." As Cottle wrote, that mistreatment included inmates being forced to wear pink underwear and work on chain gangs. In one tragic case, a man who was being held in downtown Phoenix died after he was beaten and tased by deputies. And the terrible conditions for Maricopa County prisoners extended to at least one undocumented pregnant woman, who won $200,000 in damages after being shackled while in labor.

Cottle's assertion about inmate deaths, particularly suicides, under Arpaio's watch is valid as well. As the Phoenix New Times pointed out in a 2015 headline: "Prisoners Hang Themselves in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Jails at a Rate That Dwarfs Other County Lockups." From 1996–2015, 39 of the 157 inmates—nearly 25 percent—who died in custody hanged themselves. Plus, 73—or 46 percent—of the total deaths went unexplained.

Finally, Cottle's assertion about Arpaio's approach to sex crimes is also true. As The New York Times reported last year:

His deputies failed to investigate or conducted only the sketchiest of inquiries into hundreds of sex crimes between 2005 and 2007, investigations by Arizona law enforcement agencies have shown. Many of those cases involved molested children.

Arpaio even said at the time that "if there were any victims, I apologize to those victims."

If Arpaio thinks he's going to win $147.5 million on the basis that Cottle's claims aren't true, then he's sorely mistaken. But that's not the only weird part of his logic.

The lawsuit claims Arpaio plans to make another Senate run in 2020. His chances of winning have apparently "been severely harmed" by Cottle's op-ed. That's a laughable argument for several reasons. Setting aside the fact that he'll be 88 years old in 2020, Arpaio has been a controversial figure for a while. People hated him long before Cottle's op-ed, and they would have continued to do so even if she hadn't written it.

And to point out the obvious, Arpaio was never going to win in the first place. If he couldn't get 20 percent of Republicans to vote for him this time around, he probably won't do much better in 2020.

The Times, meanwhile, appears to be holding its own. "We intend to vigorously defend against the lawsuit," spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Politico.

Arizonians have shown they have no use for "America's worst lawman." Hopefully the court will dismiss Arpaio's frivolous lawsuit.

NEXT: High School Girls Admitted to Making False Sexual Assault Accusations Against a Male Student Because They 'Just Don't Like Him'

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  1. Hey, they dismissed Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit, so I’m feeling good about this one too.

    1. If Palin got tossed (and I feel she had the best case out of the bunch of them), Joe is outta luck here.

  2. Streisand

  3. The lawsuit takes particular issue with several passages from Cottle’s op-ed. Cottle called him “a true American villain” and said his “methods often crossed the line into the not-so legal.” He’s “a disgrace to law enforcement” and “a sadist masquerading as a public servant,” she wrote. According to the lawsuit, those statements “portray Plaintiff Arpaio in a false light.”

    Lawyers should have a ‘in the client’s best interest’ obligation instead of this ‘suitability’ crap. Then the lawyer would have refused to work on a case that will go nowhere except to drain his client’s bank account into the lawyers.

    I’m not seeing anything here that doesn’t fall firmly into the ‘hyperbole or opinion’ or, you know, ‘its actually true’ camp. And its always funny to see someone include statements about things that actually happened as evidence of defamation.

    1. Uh, he’s being represented by Larry Klayman, which is fitting. Klayman is a nut job ideologue himself, and makes Donald Trump look publicity-shy.

  4. The Open Borders religion, like all religions requires a Deity, priests like Joe Seyton and Evil represented as Satan.

    Joe Arpaio is the Satan of the Open Borders religion.

    1. I take it you are a devotee of the Closed Borders religion?

      1. I’m in the Slightly Folded Borders faction.

      2. It’s not open vs closed borders.
        Its borders vs no country

        1. It’s either Joe Arpaio or absolute anarchy. Totally not a false choice.

          1. ^Calidissident

            Look at this Lefty trying to make false choices where their aren’t any.

    2. Who is this religion’s patron saint of blowjobs? Your mom?

    3. That’s an idiotic thing to say. Arpaio was a horrible, corrupt, sheriff – his stance on illegal immigration notwithstanding. This is a guy who had a deputy steal from a lawyer, in open court, right in front of a judge. And that was the least of his office’s transgressions.

    4. Joe Arpaio is the Satan of the “moderate and sensible immigration policy, sort of like what Reagan had” religion. He is the Satan of the “maybe they’re not all murders and rapists” religion. He is the Satan o fhte “let’s treat all human beings as human beings” religion.

      1. Or maybe he’s just a monster.

  5. Arpaio is a public figure, so unless the lawsuit successfully shows actual malice, the case will be summarily dismissed.

  6. Isn’t he dead yet? Death took Paul Allen at 65 but not this ancient douchenozzle?

    1. It always works that way.

  7. I wonder why tough guys like Arpaio are so wimpy and thin-skinned.

  8. His 24-year reign of terror was medieval in its brutality. In addition to conducting racial profiling on a mass scale and terrorizing immigrant neighborhoods with gratuitous raids and traffic stops and detentions, he oversaw a jail where mistreatment of inmates was the stuff of legend. Abuses ranged from the humiliating to the lethal. He brought back chain gangs. He forced prisoners to wear pink underwear….

    Uh… these are medieval brutalities?

    Come on Joe, I get it, the guy was a typical government employee but you dont need to exaggerate these actions as cruel, when they are not. The denying of medical care is.

    1. It’s pretty disingenuous to cut the quote off right before it gets to “He set up an outdoor ‘tent city,’ which he once referred to as a ‘concentration camp,’ to hold the overflow of prisoners. Inmates were beaten, fed rancid food, denied medical care (this included pregnant women) and, in at least one case, left battered on the floor to die.”

      FFS right there in the section you quoted was a line that said “Abuses ranged from the humiliating to the lethal.” Pretty safe to say the pink underwear was in the humiliating category. Ignoring everything else listed and pretending the writer (which wasn’t Joe btw) categorized his rule as medieval based on pink underwear is absurd.

      1. Joe was famous for his abuse of illegals. According to the commentariat here that makes him a true libertarian.

      2. A tent city is not a concentration camp. Go to Europe some time and visit Dachau.

        I have never seen a supported claim of beaten prisoners but I will take someone’s word for it.

        There is one case of death, but dont you think literal Hitler would have a pile of bodies reaching Sante Fe?

        Sheriff Joe was anti-open borders and he was targeted for violating the narrative. He is also an asshole.

        You Lefties really need to pick better enemies to convince Libertarians that you narrative is not utter bullshit.

        Hint: there are plenty but they tend to be Democrats. Hence your problem.

        1. You do realize the “concentration camp” line was quoting Arpaio himself, right?

          1. He’s an asshole who bragged about pink underwear.

            Since my point clearly went over your head, I have already said that he was a shitty sheriff and I could not believe he was reelected so many times.

            He wanted to enforce immigration law and that is why you lefties wanted him gone not for the other hundred reasons. You lefties like keeping thousands of people locked up.

            Lefties refuse to support ending the unconstitutional Controlled Substances Act.

            Because of your Lefty ridiculous outrage, I sided with Arpaio because he stood up to Lefties.

          2. No, he doesn’t. And he’s hoping normal people won’t also.

        2. Progtard.

          You just outed yourself as a lefty by accusing this great patriotic lawman, a man bold and brave enough to ignore the snivelling hand wringers running the state, of being an asshole, and suggesting that there was any kind of unlawful death he is responsible for.

          Your problem, LC, is you think you can fight for Liberty and against the Left at the same time. Nope, mutually exclusive, buddy. Liberty is what allows the Left to thrive and spread their poison. You want to stop the Marxists from overthrowing the United States, you give up on the idea that they can be stopped in a free society.

          God you libertarians are so dumb.

          1. Libertarians are used to fighting the Lefties and the conservatives.

            In the USA, luckily we have the Constitution.

          2. This is an impossibly dumb post, Mark

      3. In fairness, a concentration camp is clearly not medieval.

  9. Lawsuits like this one are why we NEED a credible loser-pays legal system. Arpaio has every right to go to court and make his claims but he should suffer some consequences for wasting the court’s time on a suit that even a first year law student could tell will lose.

    And, by the way, whatever shysters he hired should also be sanctioned for their role in this waste of time.

    1. Idiots will have a gofundme page for the sniveling four eyed asshole.

  10. Sheriff Joke is doing this to keep the donations coming. He is hated in AZ and his money has been coming from out of State for over a decade . He destroyed a somewhat competent Sheriffs office . It is all about raising money from people living in other states .He knows he can not win this case , he does not care.

  11. I’m rooting against both here.

    I’d like nothing more than to see the NYT eat some crow but Arpaio is not the sort of gent you want getting the honour to do so.

    1. ^ This. This is one of those exceedingly rare cases where we can only hope both sides are bled dry by attorneys’ fees.

      1. Why should you want the New York Times to get hurt by this bullshit lawsuit when they did nothing wrong?

  12. In this situation, perhaps the former sheriff should pay attention to the porn star.

  13. Huh? How is accusing Arpaio of “terrorizing immigrants” going to hurt him with the GOP establishment and donor base? With the Kochs, maybe; but who else?

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