New York Times Moves To Dismiss Joe Arpaio's Defamation Lawsuit By Pointing Out It's Impossible To Defame Him

from the shitheel-informed-of-issue-with-his-chosen-footwear dept

Last month, ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio sued three publications, claiming their unflattering articles had done $300 million in damage to his reputation. There’s money in politicking, Arpaio figured, stating these publications had made it all but impossible for him and his sterling reputation to secure a Senate seat and move on towards securing his rightfully-owed $300 million.

The New York Times has filed its motion to dismiss [PDF] and it is an entertaining read. It points out the statements it made were substantially true, and if Arpaio doesn’t like his villainous misdeeds characterized as villainous, perhaps he should have spent more of his law enforcement career not acting like a villain. (h/t Zoe Tillman)

While Arpaio asserts that the column harmed his “distinguished 55-year law enforcement and political career” and “severely damaged” his reputation with “the Republican establishment” and with “law enforcement,” Compl. ¶¶ 18-19, such an assertion is implausible on its face. The column broke no new factual ground about Arpaio or, as many Arizona officials have described it, his long “reign of terror” as a senior law enforcement official. The column merely summarized the extensive public record regarding Arpaio’s tenure as Sheriff and offered opinions about his political career. In short, the statements in the column about Arpaio are not only true, but the column also constitutes core political speech protected by the First Amendment.

Here’s what the New York Times said about the former sheriff in an article suggesting it’s a good thing Arizona voters found other candidates they preferred in the recent Senate elections.

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.

Indeed, many prisoners died in Mr. Arpaio’s jail—at an alarming clip. 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. Over the years, the county paid out tens of millions in wrongful death and injury settlements.

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.

This is the reputation being damaged to the tune of $150 million (the NYT share) by the Time’s recounting of his brutal treatment of prisoners and his lack of zeal when it came to serving and protecting those harmed by the criminals he couldn’t be bothered to catch.

Arpaio’s career as a (lol) public servant have made him defamation-proof, the New York Times argues, citing plenty of other authorities (including governmental authorities) who have found Arpaio’s tactics abusive and repugnant.

While Arpaio has billed his approach to law enforcement as “tough,” numerous critics have alleged that he implemented nothing short of a “reign of terror” through his official position in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”), under which individual rights were trampled and mistreatment of inmates was rife. Arpaio’s tactics have been the subject of federal enforcement actions and literally thousands of civil lawsuits. Maricopa County has paid tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments, settlements, and costs arising out of MCSO abuses during Arpaio’s tenure—including an estimated $120 million for racial profiling cases alone.

Then it offers a litany of stunning quotes — some of which emanate from the sentient trash heap currently suing over an allegedly-bruised reputation.

The Sheriff admitted knowing about, and in fact intentionally designing, some conditions at Tent City that created a substantial risk of inmate violence: i.e., the lack of individual security and inmate control inherent in a tent facility; the small number of guards; a mixed inmate population subject to overcrowding, extreme heat, and lack of amenities. . . .


“Sheriff [Arpaio] acknowledged that he had said that he may spend more to feed his dogs than it costs to feed inmates.”


“Arpaio has boasted in the past of the food being rotten; green bologna is a specialty.”


Courts held that Arpaio repeatedly attempted to prevent pregnant detainees from obtaining abortion medical services. Indeed, Arpaio denied elective abortion procedures to pregnant detainees until enjoined from doing so by the federal courts…


Surveillance video shown at trial revealed that, in custody, MCSO officers handcuffed him, placed a hood over his head, strapped him into a restraining chair, and forced his head between his legs, leading to asphyxiation and death…


He bragged that “I take the credit” for implementing the chain gang and “it will be here as long as I’m the sheriff.”


The MCSO reportedly confirmed that from 2005 to 2007 its special victims unit failed to investigate 432 alleged sex crimes and that detectives improperly closed more than 200 of those investigations as solved, when they were not.


The court also found that MCSO engaged in “special operations” against Latino areas without any concrete allegation of criminal activity and that MCSO officers circulated emails with racist jokes about Mexicans.


After 21 days of evidentiary hearings, the District Court found that Arpaio “intentionally failed to implement the Court’s preliminary injunction in this case, failed to disclose thousands of relevant items of requested discovery . . . deliberately violated court orders” and that Arpaio “made multiple intentional misstatements of fact while under oath.”

Monster Commits Monstrous Deeds For Two Decades; Is Shocked People Believe He’s A Monster

What could possibly be worse than the truth? Even if the NYT had gotten a fact or two wrong (Arpaio alleges other defendants’ statements he was convicted of a felony, rather than misdemeanor, is defamation per se), the body of Arpaio’s “work” has made him pretty much impervious to reputational damage. You can’t get much lower — not after you made a career out of sewer-dwelling.

This is how you write a motion to dismiss. If a terrible person wants to claim they’ve suffered reputational damage, you can very publicly remind them of their unapologetic embrace of dehumanizing not only prisoners, but everyone Arpaio felt was too Hispanic to be in this country legally. When you’ve burdened constituents with millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements and legal expenses, you can’t pretend your tattered sheriff’s hat is a halo when you get out of the law enforcement business.

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Comments on “New York Times Moves To Dismiss Joe Arpaio's Defamation Lawsuit By Pointing Out It's Impossible To Defame Him”

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

When people would ask "How does he keep getting elected?" my dad used to say, "Because the blue-hairs out in Sun City think he’s John Wayne."

Arpaio appeals to the same sort of audience as Trump: racists who insist that there’s a plague of violent criminals pouring across the border and we need a big strong "law and order" type to protect us.

Arpaio, of course, doesn’t actually have any respect for law and order. Just the opposite.

The good news is, by and large, people have finally gotten that message, and Arpaio’s star has fallen. But he’s still got a hard core of supporters — he only got 18% of the vote in last year’s Republican Senate primary, but that’s still enough support for him to keep the grift going.

Christenson says:

Also asking for SLAPP damages

Heya Mike:
If you read all three of the NYT filings (two motions, commmon appendix), you see the NYT is also moving for SLAPP damages in all but name, and it looks ready to take that part to the appeals court and the supreme court.

I don’t know if that will succeed, but I do wish them luck in getting a federal anti-slapp rule.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Sadly this will give him the boost he was looking for from the base who believes unless it is fawning admiration it is fake news.

Who cares if bad people died, they were bad.
Who cares if brown people were hassled, they should have been white.
Who cares if bad people got bad food, they needed moar punishment!
Who cares if kids got diddled, it was probably done by the brown people he was already harassing.

This will quickly be followed by complaints about activist Judges ruling against him for being a white god fearing american & not an illegal terrorist who slipped over the canadian border to steal our jobs!!!!!

It really is sad to see a nation go so deep into denial to “protect” the image of people who have proven themselves unworthy of such.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s the thing: it’s a grift. With Arpaio, it’s always a grift.

I’ve said this before, but when he ran for Senate last year, he had no intention of winning. He’d already lost reelection in Maricopa County; he got 31% of the vote in a county that went 49% for Trump. There was no damn way he was going to win a statewide race.

If he’d been serious, he’d have run for a House seat; he could have easily won the one that Trent Franks had just vacated. That he ran for Senate instead means that he wasn’t running to win, he was running for the money and the attention.

And he still is.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well when they won’t let you win an office so you can line your pockets that way you find other means.

He will be a featured speaker on certain circuits, he will extol the virtues of being an angry old man, & he will make bank.

He will run campaigns to raise money for stupid “projects” where only a small fraction will end up spent on the fools errand & the rest will buy him more coverage.

We are rapidly approaching the point when the base can see a video of them cutting the head off of a hooker & still claim it is fake news. Are we going to believe our leaders or our own lying eyes??

When our political system devolves to this level, we are getting what we deserve.
It’s okay if he raped kids, at least he’ll vote right.
It’s okay if he says he is a god fearing family man & left his wife & kids for a stripper, at least he’ll vote right.

People are more concerned about making sure no one else can get an abortion than if the guy they elected has taken his mistress for 14 of them. They want the freedom to do what they want and to make sure no one else can do what they want if they disapprove of it.

If I refused to bake a cake because you are an evangelical, I’ll be buried (well once we have a government again) in fines, penalties, & legal cases… but if your ‘strongly held’ beliefs say you ain’t gotta serve no n-words you are a hero to the crowd who believe freedom is only for them not anyone else.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When our political system devolves to this level, we are getting what we deserve.

That line always bugs me. First of all, "we" implies that everybody deserves the results of our current political system, including people who don’t support it.

Second: not to put too fine a point on it, most people don’t support it. At least at a federal level, our government is run by people who a majority did not vote for — the president, the Senate, and the judges they’ve appointed.

We deserve this? Buddy, I voted against Arpaio 6 times. Two of those were Republican primaries that I voted in just to vote against him.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I can respect that but at the same time there are vocal groups on both sides pushing their own agendas & sucking all of the air out of the room for the rest of us.

This is the ultimate in soundbite living, we care nothing beyond the soundbite & if anything challenges that is fake.

2 years in we still have a group of people screaming not my President & when we impeach him Hillary gets the job.

We have people who are taking sides, if they make sense or not, simply because duty to party has reached demanding adherence to the line.

We have people hyper offended by words & are trying to push for punishing people for using them… but only those bad people on the otherside.

While we might disagree, we can’t seem to raise our profile above the din. No one pays attention to the real issues because the focus is on those that rile the base up even if they dunno why they are riled up.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d love if you can cite the case, because often the specifics of the case matter. In this case, the argument is because all opinions are based on disclosed public facts that would be presumed to have as much damage as the following opinions, that these statements can’t harm the repuation of Joe Arpaio.

The statements against the Neo-Nazi group were likely based on assumptions based on their perceived identity and untrue facts were likely stated (or opinions made that suggested knowledge of undisclosed facts, and so what they said could have undermined public opinion below the damage of known facts. But I would have to see the details.

TDR says:

How is this piece of trash not in prison? I’m surprised he even walks around that town, you’d think he’d be a prime target for retribution. And why is it that comics and their movies and such never seem to show LEO’s like this (who are sadly more often the norm than not these days) and have Batman or whoever take them down? Who needs supervillains when you have stains like arpaio who are far worse? The Joker may have been crazy, but as far as I know, he never did half of what arpaio did.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d argue that the sensibilities of (certain parts of) law enforcement and the Republican establishment which support him are sufficiently unusual that the admitted failure to “break new factual ground” in this article would be damaging to his reputation with them.

His supporters would likely be quite annoyed if it appeared he hadn’t committed any new and newsworthy atrocities in the last few months.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Nothing we SAID is even close to as bad as what he DID.'

It’s almost impressive really, running not just into someone who is such a vile, disgusting, and all around repulsive human being that they are all but defamation-proof, but one that ramps that up to eleven by acting as though a pair of newspapers have somehow ‘harmed’ them by pointing to their own actions and demanding hundreds of millions in ‘damages’ for money that they’re sure they would have gotten.

He’s a reprehensible individual suing as a PR stunt and because newspapers accurately reported on his own actions. One can only hope that the judge(s) involved see this for what it is(and him for what he is) and anti-SLAPP him down hard.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: tl;dr

Some quick research into DC’s anti-SLAPP law suggests that yeah, there’s a pretty good chance of it working here.

That said? It feeds Arpaio’s narrative. It gets him on TV; he gets to self-promote, play the victim, and raise more money.

I dearly hope that he’s hit with legal fees that cost him more than whatever he’s able to dupe his dwindling pool of supporters into giving him. But he’s been playing this game a long time and he’s good at it.

Then again, he was good at running for sheriff — until, finally, he wasn’t anymore.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: tl;dr

It’s a case of bad vs worse.

It would be bad if he’s forced to pay legal fees, and ideally punitive fees for trying to use the courts to shut someone up, only to turn around and use the fact that he had to pay in order to drum up support from gullible fools who think he was the victim.

It would be worse however if he was able to walk away without paying anything more than his own legal fees, as he would still be able to play the victim card to score points with fools, he just wouldn’t actually face any penalty for his attempted lawsuit/PR stunt.

There doesn’t really seem to be a ‘good’ outcome here for the deplorable, vile individual, given he still has people stupid and/or disgusting enough to continue to support him, and given that the ‘best’ that it seems you can reasonably hope for is that his latest stunt at least costs him, punishing him in some way for it.

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