Green Acre Lynch Mob: Joe Arpaio Leads Media and Public on Mission of Vengeance Against Jeff Flake's Son

Montgomery caved to emotion in the Green Acre case, Arpaio has skillfully exploited it.
Montgomery caved to emotion in the Green Acre case, Arpaio has skillfully exploited it.
Dennis Gilman; Gage Skidmore

I rarely look to politicians for common sense, but I thought Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had stumbled onto some at a press conference in September, when he addressed the situation at the Green Acre Dog Boarding facility in Gilbert.

Montgomery explained that he'd just received the voluminous results of an investigation by the Sheriff's Office into the deaths of more than 20 dogs at the business in June. Hyperthermia and suffocation have been offered as reasons for the deaths.

The canines expired after getting left overnight in a locked, crowded room where the air conditioner was not working properly.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio already had announced to the media that his office was suggesting that the business' owners and, notably the facility's temporary caretakers, the son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, each be charged with numerous felony counts of animal cruelty.

Montgomery warned that it would take time for his office to review the "five binders, roughly 500 pages per binder," and about a dozen CDs of material that had been turned over to him by the MCSO.

"The other thing to distinguish here, too," he said, "and this isn't to cheapen or disregard the impact of losing a family pet. I've had a dog in my family for decades off and on. I've had to have a vet put a dog to sleep, and that hurt. I get that. But we're not talking about the deaths of 23 children."

I've felt the same way, as so many people online and otherwise have bayed for vengeance, demanding arrests, indictments, and jail time for the sad deaths of nearly two-dozen family pets, one of which reportedly was owned by MaLeisa and Jesse Todd Hughes, the proprietors of the facility.

The Hugheses were in Florida while Austin Flake and his bride, Logan, watched the business and the dogs when the tragedy occurred.

Accounts differ as to why the dogs died the way they did that night, as opposed to any other night. And the Hugheses have not made things better for themselves.

Jesse Todd Hughes has admitted to lying to customers about the fate of the pets. And MaLeisa Hughes, the mother of Logan Flake, unwisely chose to confront a local press corps that's been treating the case like it's the next Jodi Arias trial.

 

But no one reasonably can argue that the Flakes set out to kill the dogs.

Or that the Hugheses wanted to ruin their business and, arguably, their own well-being by offing the pooches.

At the press conference, Montgomery warned that his office would not be influenced by the outrage that had erupted on Twitter, with hashtags like #Gilbert23, or on the "Tragedy at Green Acre Dog Boarding" Facebook page.

"This is not a version of America's Got Talent," Montgomery admonished. "You can't call in and vote for a charge."

Why, then, did it seem exactly like that's what had happened when Montgomery allowed his prosecutors to go to a grand jury recently and obtain 21 felony and seven misdemeanor counts against the Flakes -- and 23 felony and seven misdemeanor counts against the Hugheses?

All charges were for animal cruelty, save for one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices against the Hugheses.

As a result, the Internet erupted in an orgy of schadenfreude.

On the "Tragedy" Facebook page, one woman opined that she was "ready to see them all handcuffed and taken to jail and they lose everything they own."

Another commenter called the accused "pure scum" and hoped that it "destroys [Jeff Flake's] political career."

So it went, even on the opinion pages of the Arizona Republic, where Laurie Roberts did her best Nancy Grace impersonation.

"I imagine Snickers and Sandy are smiling today," she said, referencing two of the dogs that died at Green Acre. "Jeff Flake, not so much."

Because that's what it's all about, making life miserable for the junior senator from Arizona?

 

Roberts also patted Arpaio on the back, calling him "a softie for animals."

Not for humans, as anyone knows who has paid attention to the trail of corpses that have emerged from Arpaio's jails over the years; men and women who were accused of various offenses, not convicted.

According to Arpaio's former Deputy Chief Brian Sands, the sheriff's "softie for animals" routine is nothing but a shtick.

In his recent e-memoir, Arpaio: De Facto Lawman, Sands recounts that he used to tease Arpaio about how the great protector of animals did not himself have a dog.

Sands says Arpaio confided that the sheriff's "aggressive animal-abuse image" was a "political goldmine" because it won over people who otherwise would not support him.

"That certainly became apparent," writes Sands, "as I would hear people say they were against Arpaio, but because he defended animals, he was great."

As if to illustrate that point, Arpaio once held a news conference outside the Green Acre facility in the weeks following the dogs' deaths to announce the discovery of some rabbits that had croaked from heatstroke.

Rabbits!

Remember the El Mirage victims of sex crimes, many of them children? Did they get this level of attention from Arpaio's investigators?

Or what about when in December 2013, about a week before Christmas, one of Sheriff Arpaio's deputies, Sean Pearce, son of Arpaio ally Russell Pearce, the recalled state Senate president, creamed into the side of a car in Glendale, killing 63-year-old John Harding, who had been on his way to Walmart?

Harding was a retired veteran and a grandfather, who left five grown children and a widow behind.

 

Sean Pearce had been on duty, shadowing a suspect that other deputies were following. He was going twice the speed limit in an unmarked Chevy Tahoe without lights or a siren.

Pearce didn't intend to kill that innocent man any more than the Flakes or the Hugheses intended for those dogs to die.

Still, Montgomery declined to charge Pearce or to take the case to a grand jury, saying it was better dealt with as a civil matter.

Yet the unintentional deaths of dogs, which legally are someone's property, is not best left to civil court?

In the Green Acre affair, Arpaio is exploiting the emotional ties people have with their pets.

Montgomery has caved to it.

Sure, I like dogs. Who doesn't?

But when I hear distraught dog owners on TV say their "family members" were "murdered" by the Flakes and the Hugheses, I would like to remind them that you cannot murder a dog.

Murder applies to human beings, which dogs are not.

I feel silly even writing this, but some people evidently need reminding.

Friends of the Flakes, for instance, have informed me that the newlyweds have received death threats, which is not hard to imagine, given the intensity of the voices out there.

Austin, 21, had been a junior majoring in psychology at Brigham Young University.

He and Logan, 20, were visibly shaken at their recent arraignment. Austin could be seen sweating.

Harangued as they left the court, solemn and holding hands, they reminded me of a line from The Ox-Bow Incident, the classic film about frontier "justice."

"All you know is you lost something, and somebody's got to be punished," says a wrongly accused man before he's hanged.

At least in the film, he was alleged to have killed a human being, not the family pet.

E-mail stephen.lemons@newtimes.com.


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